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movie: Papa: Hemingway in Cuba (2015)

YARI-PAOS-01_27x40_031816.inddI’m afraid I’m quite late in writing this review: it has been at least a month since I saw this movie at a local theatre. I was really hoping for a reprise so I could take Husband to see it, and see it a second time for myself, but no luck. I recall my impressions, though, and will share them here.

The story is that of a young Miami reporter who idolizes Hemingway. In the film he is Ed Myers; in real life he was Denne Bart Peticlerc, who wrote the screenplay. Myers, played by Giovanni Ribisi (who I really like), writes Hemingway an adoring letter which he does not mean to send. His girlfriend sends it on, which results in a phone call from Papa himself, and an invitation to visit the Finca Vigía, the Hemingway home in Havana. A friendship develops between Myers, Hemingway and Hemingway’s 4th wife Mary.

This is also the first U.S./Hollywood filming to take place in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, an interesting factoid and one that should cue us to look closely at setting and extras.

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba has been criticized. Some reviewers find it lacking in background introduction to Hemingway’s story (no problem for this viewer, but okay, noted), or poorly acted, or melodramatic. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but I’ll allow that my fascination (not to say obsession) with the subject may have helped.

It is hard to watch Hemingway and Mary fight, and watch Hemingway struggle with depression and mental illness. It is melodramatic; but so, I think, was his life. It was actually rather painful to see it portrayed, but I do think it’s a pretty accurate portrayal. There were some hilarious as well as pathos-ridden, and very apt, scenes involving Hemingway’s performances in life–because his life was a performance–and Myers’s obvious discomfort. I was occasionally uncomfortable, too. I think Hemingway had that effect on people.

Adrian Sparks plays Papa, rather uncannily, I’d say.

The backdrop was most interesting, especially when I think about how filming took place. There were a few wide-angle shots of streets filled with gleaming, colorful 1950’s American cars: I imagine it took a little looking to find such mint-condition specimens (shot in 2014 but to match a late-50’s setting), but of course these are the cars still largely piloting Havana today. I wondered about the extras, such as musicians playing in bars. How were they hired? How did they approach this project? What a weird, meta-meditation on the persistent issues with U.S.-Cuban relations today. All of which does belong in any story about Hemingway.

In a nod to the Chicago Sun-Times review linked above, I will recommend this movie to viewers with a certain familiarity with the Hemingway story. And be prepared for sad, disturbing scenes. But the one presupposes the other: Hemingway’s life was indeed filled with scenes like these.


Rating: 7 skinny dips.

3 Responses

  1. I need to view this.

  2. […] closely on my viewing of Papa, I saw parallels. Literary talents can be oh so dramatic, and their lives can be woeful, tragic and […]

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