papa pic 1

A good deal of classic authors, even those with interesting personal lives; generally don’t live their stories to the vivid extent of the characters they portray on the pages of their books. Hemingway is a very clear exception. His experiences in life fueled the adventures of his literary heroes and villains throughout his tumultuous career. Papa Hemingway In Cuba is a film that attempts to take a larger than life man/myth and put him on the silver screen. And it does so with gusto.

It is 1959, and Ed Meyers (Giovanni Ribisi) is a young journalist who idolizes his hero of the written word, Ernest Hemingway (Adrian Sparks). After a co-worker (Debbie Hunt) sends off a letter Ed wrote to Hemingway and never meant to send himself, he is invited to join the author I Havana Cuba. Once there, he becomes friends with the writer, who true to his nature spends his days fishing, fighting, and drinking with Ed while the Cuban Revolution becomes a violent and dangerous reality all around them.

Director Bob Yari and Screenwriter Denne Bart Petitclerc certainly have their hands full with this picture. Biopics have been en vogue lately, and the majority of them are anything but lackluster (Capote, Trumbo, Hitchcock). It is especially important when either the person being portrayed, or their immediate family, are still around to see the film (Mariel Hemingway has a bit part in the film). From everything most of us know about Ernest and his works/life, Papa shows him as most of us thought he was.

The film excels when Sparks and Ribisi share screen time. Ribisi’s character Ed slowly evolving from star eyed fan to unwilling confidant and eventually to a sort of friend, all the while dealing willing with a cantankerous Hemingway as brilliantly and brashly portrayed by Sparks.

The film also has the unique attribute of being the first American feature film shot on the island of Cuba in over fifty years. This gives an authenticity that would be nearly impossible to replicate on any other conventional film set, on location or sound stage. The cars, the architecture, everything has remained stalled in time since the 1960’s and it shows. The picture is vivid and wild as the times in which the movie takes place.

The level of danger is adequate enough to create a real feeling of suspense even though anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the events of the time and the eventual fate f the author knows how it will all play out. And this is ultimately what makes Papa a wonderful film to experience. When the people involved in a film can cause an already informed audience to suspend their disbelief for the duration of the event, it has accomplished something memorable. Much like stepping into one of Hemingway’s novels, that even to this day, inspire a sense of adventure.