Sunday, May 1, 2016

Papa Hemingway in Cuba (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba

The shadow of Ernest Hemingway looms large. Indeed, along the Southern latitudes of Cuba and Key West, it is as if he has never left. Director Bob Yari gives us a version of the man in "Papa: Hemingway in Cuba." The film is a slow paced yet colorful portrait of the celebrity author at the end of his life set against the Castro revolution in the late 50s.

Actor Adrian Sparks does a solid job inhabiting Hemingway's bluster and granite-hard ego. The film only suffers from the monotone portrayal of Ed Meyers, the writer's protege and number one fan by Giovanni Ribisi, and a high pitched role by Joely Richardson as Mary Hemingway, who  ends up screaming.

Despite its dramatic drawbacks, this film has crisp color and it is stunning to look upon. Men in suits drift by upon red chrome boats known as 1950 cars. Ernest Himself stands upon the Pilar, his own modest vessel. His huge leonine head blocks the sun. He is either a Goya monster of the Gulfstream or a bourbon-eyed Santa Claus. This is the compelling element. The Great Hem is often shown as a fright in both guises.

Ribisi is a harried newsman who idolizes the author and writes a letter. Hemingway invites him to Finca La Vigia, the author's home. But there is little emotional chemistry. A pale dough faced Ribisi is either wide-eyed or flat. The exchanges between the master and the pupil here resemble Indiana Jones and Short Round from "The Temple of Doom." Hemingway frequently says "Okay, Kid!" or "This is it, Kid we all die sometime..!" For a full length film, one needs something more substantial than Bogey or Harrison Ford.

The domestic fights feel staged and pre-made, with much handwringing and explosive bluster. There is the often seen yelling and the throwing of glasses. Human beings and artists too, are varied and complex creatures. Shouldn't their arguments show this? Certainly there was more original drama in the famed author's home than such caterwauling here, the same stuff found in countless TV dramas.

The most arresting moments in the film have to do with the sweep of Cuba itself. This is a country overwhelmed in glitz and Technicolor glamour, not the least of which being Ernest himself. Comparsa singers shake maracas, voluptuous and heavy and the energetic music attacks Hemingway. Suddenly anxious lines of lattitude betray his face which should have been lifted in happiness.

Herein lies the most interest: the simple fact of a man thrown to an envious crowd who only wishes to write well. There is a side plot illustrating that Ed loves fellow reporter Debbie Hunt (Minka Kelly) but an ashen Ribisi is no Romeo. The film is based on the experiences of Denne Petitclerc (the Ed Meyers character) who wrote the screenplay and shared a genuine friendship with Hemingway. The shame is that we only get a soap story out of what surely was real life dynamite.

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