Front Row at the Movies
Brings Cuba to You
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Adrian Sparks has played Ernest Hemingway before, earning him an Ovation Best Actor nod for his 2005 appearance in a play by Pulitzer Prize winning author John deGroot. So he was ready when director Bob Yari tapped him to portray the great writer again, this time in the film “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.”
This one is based on the memoirs of Denne Bart Petitclerc, a young newspaperman who became Ernest Hemingway’s fishing buddy and somewhat protégé. In 1959 Petitclerc had written a gushy fan letter and got an invitation to go fishing in reply.
“Papa Hemingway in Cuba” covers exactly what the title promises, a sensitive look at a famous writer in decline, living at Finca Vigía, his longtime home outside of Havana.
In addition to Adrian Sparks’ spot-on performance as Papa, the film gives us Giovanni Ribisi as Ed Myers (the name Petitclerc gives himself in this telling), Joely Richardson as Papa’s fiery wife Mary, even Mariel Hemingway with a walk-on part as a “woman guest.”
“Papa Hemingway In Cuba” -- now showing at Tropic Cinema -- is the first Hollywood film to be shot in Cuba in 50 years.
I interviewed Bob Yari, Adrian Sparks, and Joely Richardson on stage at the San Carlos Theater during a recent Key West Film Festival. Best known as a movie producer (Oscar-winning “Crash,” among others), Iran-born Bob Yari (né Babar Yaghoubzadeh) decided to cross over to directing with this film. It took him a decade to pull it off, due to the US Embargo and international tensions that date back to the Cold War.
Yari said, “When we first applied for license from the Treasury and State departments they turned us down flat. It took two years of arm wrestling to get approval.”
However, the Cuban government was more cooperative, having long venerated Ernest Hemingway. “They let us shoot in Hemingway’s house, a museum that has been left exactly the way it was the day he left Cuba for the last time. It was really kind of amazing -- visitors to the museum can’t enter the house, they can only look in from the outside. But we were allowed to go inside with an entire film crew.”
The production company never had to build a single set, for the effect of the longtime embargo is that Havana looks almost exactly as it did a half century ago, right down to the antique ‘50s automobiles.
“One of the things about our story is that Cuba is not just a background location,” said Yari. “It’s a character. Hemingway’s love of Cuba and the Cuban people is a big part of all this. I don’t think you could have faked it by shooting anywhere else.”