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Film Review: “Papa Hemingway In Cuba” (2015)




Truth be told, I’ve never been a big Hemingway fan, although I was impressed by his early short stories when I read them as a young man. I thought his obsession with machismo was silly and didn’t admire his often vindictive attitude toward others (like the way he slagged Fitzgerald in his autobiography). That and the constant, grandiose bullshitting, both fueled by staggering quantities of alcohol consumed. Faulkner struck me as being a more profound novelist, with a deeper insight into the human  condition and what made the United States tick.

People presently forget the hold Hemingway had over the American imagination. He was world famous, one of the last and greatest literary celebrities. Even today, almost sixty years after his death, Hemingway’s legend still inspires with a case in point being this film. Deeply rooted in fact and shot in Cuba in Hemingway’s own (truly beautiful) home, Papa is a stunning work of verisimilitude, a “you are there,” fly on the wall gaze at the Nobel Prize winner in all his magnificent, pathetic, drunken, paranoid, abusive glory.

Adrian Sparks gives a masterful performance as Hemingway, alternately charming, fascinating, wonderfully entertaining and erudite and then in an instant turning mean, sodden, paranoid, and as one character puts it, into “the biggest son of a bitch you’d ever want to meet.” The other actors are also uniformly excellent with standout performances particularly by Joely Richardson as Mary, Hemingway’s long suffering third wife, and Giovanni Ribisi as the young journalist, Ed Myers, who befriends Hemingway late in  life. The film was shot from a screenplay written by Myers and many of the scenes have the absolute ring of truth, of real events simply transcribed.

As I noted before, Hemingway was a notorious bullshitter, prone to spinning yarns of derring-do, like the time he organized an unofficial military unit to participate in the 1944 invasion of France. To introduce suspense beyond Hemingway’s suicidal depression and cat and dog fights with his wife, a subplot deals with gunrunning and the revolutionary struggle against the corrupt and vicious Batista regime. I won’t give anything away, but this also ties in the Mafia and the FBI. Among his many personal tics, J. Edgar Hoover was deeply obsessed with Hemingway. He hated his left wing views and was jealous of Hemingway’s popularity, much greater than Hoover’s. He had Hemingway put under constant surveillance wherever he went. Hemingway complained about being spied on and having his phones tapped, but his friends dismissed it, attributing his suspicions to his intense paranoia and (again) his tendency to bullshit. Lo and behold, when the FBI files on Hemingway were made public, they proved Papa was right all the time. Someone had been following him.

This is a beautiful film to watch, with good shots of the Malecon and the Havana waterfront (basically unchanged since Hemingway’s day). The shots of rural Cuba are even more gorgeous, lush, green tropical plains. I recommend this film to Hemingway fans and admirers of serious, adult films.

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