Ernest Hemingway is one of the most enduring authors in the American canon, so it’s no surprise to see his storied decades in Cuba immortalized on film.
With a larger-than-life subject, expectations were already high for Papa: Hemingway In Cuba. Furthermore, the movie itself is of historical importance — it’s the first movie shot in Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Symbolically, it’s a powerful representation of the easing of relations between Hollywood and Havana.
Unfortunately, critical response is indicating the venture did not paint Ernest’s Caribbean island years well. Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers wrote that he believes this is largely due to Hemingway In Cuba‘s inability to divorce itself from the original source material. The dialogue all comes from a script written by Denne Bart Petitclerc, a journalist whose hand-written letter to Ernest got him a personal invitation to come meet the author on the island.
Hemingway, whose novel, To Have and Have Not, was re-written for the screen by William Faulkner, might have made some meaningful revisions to the dialogue. Travers writes that while the movie has its bright moments, none of them happen when the characters are actually speaking.
“As a movie, Papa improves every time it shuts up and allows action to define character. Clunky, overripe patches of dialogue litter the film. Papa often delivers unsolicited advice: ‘Kid, the only value we have as human beings are the risks we’re willing to take.’ In one scene, Hemingway uses a cocktail napkin to scrawl what he calls a six-word short story: ‘For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never worn.’ Yup, sometimes less really is more. If only the movie itself had paid heed.”
If that’s the case, it’s easy to see why Ernest got muddled in Papa. Mirroring an author known for deft prose is difficult if the image isn’t sharp to begin with. Other critics seem to almost unanimously agree: the film currently holds an embarrassing score of 37 out of 100 on Metacritic. Stephanie Merry of the Washington Post said that it was marred by poor production values that ultimately “blunt its impact.” Rene Rodriguez wrote a particularly biting review for the Miami Herald, in which she likened Adrian Spark’s portrayal of Hemingway to “dinner theater or a Key West tourist attraction.”
“Everyone in the film keeps talking about his genius, but other than a scene in which he writes a short story on the back of a napkin, the movie doesn’t try to humanize or explore his talent.”
It’s a shame that Ernest doesn’t find the perfect movie version of himself that begs to be made. Hemingway was known affectionately as “Papa” in Cuba, where he lived on Finca Vigía with his third wife, and later his last wife.
Ernest brought the property in 1940 for $12,500. It was later taken over by the government in 1961 when Hemingway died, including his massive book collection. Tourists can now visit the area on day trips from Havana, according to Hemingway in Cuba.
In Cuba, Ernest wrote portions of two of his most important works — For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and theSea. He lived in the area on-and-off during the last 20 years of his life. During that time, Hemingway was considered to be on friendly terms with Fidel Castro, and even said he was happy to see the Fulgencio Batista overthrown.
Do you think Ernest Hemingway was done wrong in Papa: Hemingway in Cuba?
[Photo by Joe Raedle and Jorge Rey/Getty Images]