“Papa Hemingway In Cuba”

If you like “Who is Afraid Of Virginia Woolf ?” histrionics and wish to see a glimpse of Hemingway gunrunning for Castro this may be the film for you. I found the gentler side of Hemingway portrayed just as beautifully by Adrian Sparks, of “The Young And The Restless” and Broadway fame. Sparks played Hemingway in the one-man show  “Papa” by John Degroot,and he has his many-sides down. He glows at the praise heaped on him by his admiring letter- writing journalist, Denne Bart Petitclerc (Giovanni Ribisi) , and Hemingway seems to want to make a difference in the lives of a young baseball team, the poor of Cuba, and our fledgling reporter. Yet, his self- loathing is legendary when it comes to his many sins. One scene has him explaining how it took a priest eight hours to hear his confessional, his first in fifteen years. The priest evidentially passed out without giving him absolution.

When Ed Meyers ( name substituted for Petitclerc)  writes a “thank you for saving my life ” paean to Hemingway, Ernest asks him to fish with him in Havana. I disliked Ribisi in this role. He plays too fawning and  too indecisive. I can’t imagine the lovely Minka Kelly loving him, or Hemingway mentoring him. His eyes look like he could be led anywhere and by anyone. His Miami Globe headlines seem to fade against his wimpy visage. He is called ” the kid” by the Hemingways, but he looks like a persistent debt collector. Someone who  is almost too needy to be molded.

The opposite could be said of Joely Richardson. Vanessa Redgrave is assuredly proud of her daughter’s portrayal of Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary. Her voice is perfect. She is nuanced and balances between the hurt and the hurtful. Enjoy her Marlene Dietrich slam on Ernest’s 59th birthday, and her snipes at Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley.

Filmed in Cuba and in Santa Barbara, ” Papa Hemingway In Cuba” makes use of “Finca La Vigia” , the real Hemingway villa.  Now a tourist attraction, the villa is the setting for much of the film. Fancy bars serve as backdrops to conversations the rest of the time. The beauty of beach, sky, and palm is mixed with the massacre of  rebels outside Batista’s palace. Hemingway’s friend, Lucas, is later torn apart with thirty bullets to the chest. The Mafia and the FBI have their parts to play. J. Edgar Hoover continues to be the self-preserving devil in the background. Hemingway knows too much and says too much about Hoover’s cross-dressing proclivities.

The music selected by Mark Ishram is good , mambo included; and the shiny cars and 1950 vibes are consistent. Mariel Hemingway has a brief cameo sitting next to her grandfather at his birthday dinner. Script details like ” nosy Nancy”,  and props like Camels and rum daquaries don’t surprise. Hemingway is portrayed as shy, deluged by fame, and teacherish on one side. He talks about ” the power of less”.  His six- word short story, “For sale, baby shoes, never worn” , is touted. ” Biggest tourist attraction in Cuba and his only privacy is at sea ” seem too pat. Yet, I liked the introspective Papa who tersely reminds us ” that the faces of the dead are always the same.”

Denne Petitclerc died in 2006. He says Hemingway taught him how to see, saved his life, adopted him and became his family. The drunken, paranoid Hemingway also knocked him to the floor. Hemingway is often “bloody close to madness”. Sixteen martinis is his record at one bar sitting. Alcoholism is seen up close.

Uneven pacing and only a tad insightful. My favorite line comes from Mary. She repeats the Cuban saying which I love: ” Some people are poor- they only have money”.