1 May 2016 | dave-mcclain
This film's portrait of E. Hemingway is engaging, enlightening and entrancing.
Sometimes the importance of a film transcends its subject matter. "Papa: Hemingway in Cuba" (R, 1:49) is one such film. It was the first Hollywood production shot on the island nation of Cuba since that country's communist revolution brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. The gradual opening of Cuban society and subsequent easing of tensions between Cuba and the U.S. created the possibility of such a production, while depicting the twilight years of writer Ernest Hemingway served as the perfect project.
The time of his residence in Cuba was the last happy period in the amazing and enigmatic life of one of America's greatest writers. Hemingway wrote as a newspaper journalist, war correspondent, short story writer, poet, playwright and novelist. He wrote in a deceptively simple style which won him the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize and influenced countless other writers. He gathered ideas and inspiration from his experiences in three different wars (both World Wars and the Spanish Civil War), living and working in several different countries in North America and Europe (including Canada, France and Austria), his passion for the outdoors (especially hunting and fishing) and his turbulent romantic life (typified in his four marriages). He was a man who survived one hospitalization for war wounds, two airplane crashes, three car accidents and several different illnesses, yet worsened his health further through a lifetime of heavy drinking. Hemingway's was a life of drama and this film excellently portrays a portion of that life.
"Papa: Hemingway in Cuba" tells the true story of the writer's latter years in Cuba (mostly 1957) as he befriends and mentors a rising writer named Denne Bart Petitclerc – renamed Ed Myers in this script. Ed (Giovanni Ribisi) was abandoned as a child and found inspiration in Hemingway's writing. As a young newspaper reporter, he writes, revises and then hesitates to send a fan letter to his idol. Ed's co-worker and girlfriend, Debbie Hunt (Minka Kelly), mails the letter without Ed's knowledge and Ed gets a surprise telephone call at work from Hemingway (Adrian Sparks) who invites Ed to go fishing with him in Cuba.
Ed makes a number of visits to Cuba during which his friendship with Hemingway and his wife, Mary (Joely Richardson), grows, just as Hemingway's own physical and mental state deteriorates. Also going downhill is his relationship with Debbie (strained by the frequency of those trips) and the political and security situation in Cuba, which is drifting toward revolution. Ed fishes, swims, talks and socializes with the Hemingways and their diverse group of friends as he witnesses his idol's behavior become more erratic and observes incidents that demonstrate increasing danger for the government and the residents of Cuba. Through all this, Ed struggles to find his voice as a writer, to reconcile the Hemingway he got to know with his image of his literary hero and his reluctance to commit to a woman who clearly loves him.
"Papa: Hemingway in Cuba" is engaging, enlightening and entrancing. Actually seeing the country of Cuba (including the actual house Hemingway occupied) through the confident lens of cinematographer Ernesto Melara is both beautiful and interesting. The audience also gains a lot of insight into who this famous man was a person, much the same way as Movie Fans who saw 2011's "My Week with Marilyn", which is another true story told through the eyes of an ordinary young man who gets to spend time with his world-famous idol (although Michelle Williams' legs are much more attractive than Adrian Sparks').
The story is economically told by a script from Denne Bart Petitclerc himself, who sadly died early in the production of this film, and the direction of Bob Yari, who, interestingly, has been a successful feature film producer for over 15 years (including 2004's Best Picture Oscar winner "Crash"). Bringing the film's well-conceived drama and well-written dialog to life is a stellar multi-national cast featuring award-worthy performances from Ribisi, Kelly and especially Richardson and Sparks who also happen to look a lot like the real people they are playing. All this combines to create a film which is pleasing to the eye, the ear, the intellect and the discerning moviegoer's sense of enjoyment. "A-"