Papa, or Papa Hemingway in Cuba (as IMDB refers to it) is a docudrama about Ernest Hemingway in the late 1950s, when he spent time living in Cuba. The film itself was mostly shot in Cuba, and used his home there for most of the film. It is also the first Hollywood movie filmed in Cuba since the 1959 revolution there. Hemingway’s home is a national museum, now.
The story starts with a reporter for the Miami Herald, Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi). Ed is a big fan of Hemingway (Adrian Sparks), and writes a fan letter to him that he never mails, afraid of offending the man, himself. His girlfriend, Debbie Hunt (Minka Kelly), mails it for him, and Hemingway responds by inviting him down for a visit.
Hemingway’s there with his wife, Mary (Joely Richardson), who is as much a free spirit as Papa (Everyone calls Hemingway Papa). They discuss Ed’s work as a war correspondent in Korea, and the connection is made. Hemingway takes the young journalist under his wing, exposing Ed to his world, which includes the realities of Cuba at the time.
Ed makes frequent trips to Cuba, but it’s clear that the tide is changing. Debbie wants more of a relationship, and is annoyed that Ed seems to be at Papa’s beck and call. The FBI approaches Ed to get him to monitor Papa and his activities. It’s clear they want the dirt. As with all things, familiarity breeds contempt, and we do get to see the surly side of Papa, who is as nasty as you’d expect. He and Mary argue, while he struggles with writer’s block. It’s all seemingly downhill from there.
The film’s a bit formulaic in some ways, but it was never dull. In a post-screening interview, the director explained that he chose a relative unknown to play Hemingway, so as to let the character of the man come out, rather than have everyone see the named actor playing a role.
What I found interesting was that this movie was originally written by Denne Bart Petitclerc, and it’s about his life. He wrote the letter to Hemingway, spent time with him, but made up the character of Ed, for some reason. There was also a surprising ‘blink and you miss it’ cameo, but IMDB spoils that.
I appreciated this insight into the later years of Hemingway, and I do recommend it.