Friday, May 6, 2011

Film Review: Hello Hemingway

"Hello Hemingway" ** (out of ****)

"Hello Hemingway" (1990) is a Cuban drama set in 1956 revolving around a young girl's dream of making a better life for herself. She wants to study in America and when great difficulty comes her way she finds inspiration in Ernst Hemingway and his novel "The Old Man & The Sea".

On some level I can relate to and admire Fernado Perez's film. But good intentions don't always translate into a good film. "Hello Hemingway" has some good moments and is in some ways a technically well made piece of work but the film doesn't do enough in creating a proper political environment, has a truly awful score and sometimes I felt introduced plot twist which were never needed and/or properly explained.

I have been watching quite a few Cuban movies these past several months. Largely in part because my girlfriend is half-Cuban. One can immediate notice certain themes prevalent throughout the country's cinema. From what I have seen they are largely political. Or at the very least have politics in the background.

I have yet to see a Cuban film, including "Hello Hemingway", which has fully explained what was wrong with the Batista regime (which was backed by the United States) and how people knew Castro was going to be a problem. In fact, I haven't seen any Cuban movie which was made shortly after the revolution that was critical of Castro.

The American film "The Lost City" (2005) tried to tell us the story of Cuba. While one can argue the film was somewhat successful, and I can completely understand why someone who is Cuban would be able to appreciate that film, I felt it didn't give us an accurate depiction of what Cuba was like. Instead I prefer the Cuban film, "A Successful Man" (1987).

I mention all of this because "Hello Hemingway" throws politics into its story. It ends on a heavy handed political message. A group of college students want to see the Batista regime crumble. But why? The movie never explains why the people turned against him. What kind of corruption was going on? I know, from doing my own research, that Batista suspended the 1940 constitution (which Castro said he would reinstate) for example. But the movie itself never tells us that. A good movie should explain the environment in which it takes place.

In "Hello Hemingway" Larita (Laura De La Uz) wants to study philosophy and literature in America, if she can qualify for a scholarship. The problem is Larita comes from a poor family. Her family doesn't want her to travel to America. They would prefer she give up these fancy dreams and get a job and help out the family. What does a woman need with an education anyway?

As someone who was the first in my family to go to college I can understand the struggles Larita goes through to prove herself and what it means to her to embark on this endeavor.

Larita has a boyfriend, Victor (Raul Paz) who also doesn't want her to study in America because of what it would mean to their relationship. Also, Victor is very political and wouldn't want to turn his back on Cuba in its moment of need. He wants to work hard to see Batista overthrown.

"Hello Hemingway" does not offer us any insight into Cuba and her politics. The film kind of, sort of works as a piece of teen angst however and shows the difficulty in which the working poor had to endure in Cuba. It clearly is a country with a class system and one which makes it very hard for those on the lower end to improve themselves.

The film won two awards at the Havana Film Festival, one of which was for Laura De la Uz in the "Best Actress" category. "Hello Hemingway" has its fine points but the film doesn't do enough.