Papa Hemingway is something of a “stranger than fiction” story about Denne Bart Petitclerc, journalist, and screenwriter for this film. As a young child he had been abandoned by both his parents, ran away from the orphanage where his mother had placed him, and managed to get a job as a sports reporter. However, his spelling and grammar were so atrocious, he was fired. Undeterred, he bugged his employer for so long, he got his job back with strict terms, and to educate himself, he wrote out Hemingway’s stories, which taught him spelling, grammar, how to tell a story, and “to see”, he said.
So Hemingway was his idol, and to let him know how much he had influenced his life, he wrote a letter of appreciation to the famous writer. To his surprise, Hemingway called him on the phone, complimenting him on the letter and the articles he had written for the Miami Herald, where he was employed at the time, and inviting him for a visit to Havana, Cuba, where Hemingway and his wife Mary (Richardson) lived.
The Petitclerc character in the film is named Ed Myers (played by Ribisi), but when he arrives in Havana, Hemingway calls him “The Kid”, and that’s pretty much his name throughout the film. This is except for an office romance with Debbie (Kelly), who perceptively recognizes that he is afraid to send the letter to Hemingway so mails it without telling him, and the two develop a strong bond.
Both the Hemingways are entranced with and admiring of the young journalist, and invite him back to their luxurious home on the island over and over again. This part of the story, which takes place in the late ‘50s, is during the time Batista is in power, just before and during the revolution led by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. The film gives us a picture of political unrest (for which Hemingway says there is no solution—“Hay no remedio”), but which, interestingly, parallels a violent unrest in the marriage of the Hemingways as well. Young Eddie is appalled, but like many children who feel some responsibility for their parents’ well being, he tries desperately to help. Papa Hemingway (and actually Mary too) have become the parents he never had.
America’s involvement in the Cuban revolution and its support of the Batista regime is touched upon in the movie, with the FBI cast in an unflattering light (likely true, however). Someone high in the U.S. government is after Hemmingway and wants him to be discredited, and we find out why—one of those dark pages in American history.
I found this film engaging and interesting. Not only does it fill us in on a bit of political history and shed light on a famous author, it has soul, in that it has something to say about life and the things we need to treasure, like family, friends, and loyalty—as well as Hemingway’s dictum: “The only value we have as human beings is in the risks we’re willing to take.”
The movie was filmed in Cuba, including within the Hemingway’s house (now a museum), and the landscape is as beautiful as a travelogue. Cinematography by Ernesto Malara and music by Mark Isham contribute to the quality. Rabisi and Sparks embody their characters poignantly, along with Shaun Taub as Evan Shipman, the poet. Although Joely Richardson is a fine actress, her portrayal of Mary was rather lifeless during distressful moments (not convincing as a woman whose aggression comes out with alcohol), but during sunny moments, she was alluring.
An intriguing look at Hemmingway by a journalist/friend.