The new Ernest Hemingway biopic Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is notable for several reasons. Not only does the film celebrate a special time in the writer’s life, it is also the first American film shot in Cuba in more than 50 years. With fishing on the Gulf Stream thrown in for good measure, it might be a great film for Hemingway enthusiasts.
The film stars Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, Gone in 60 Seconds) as Denne Bart Petitclerc, a young newspaper reporter with the Miami Globe. Petitclerc writes an impassioned letter to Hemingway detailing the writer’s influence on his own career, which, through the interference of a coworker and friend, is mailed to Hemingway in Cuba.
Hemingway, played by Adrian Sparks (MacGyver, The West Wing), receives the letter and invites Ribisi down for a fishing trip. From there, the two talk writing, politics, and life.
Joely Richardson plays Mary Hemingway, with Minka Kelly as Debbie Hunt.
Political unrest looms over Petitclerc’s stay, simultaneously endangering him and providing him with content for the newspapers stateside. Thrown into the fighting and writing are fishing lessons on Hemingway’s Pilar across the Gulf Stream.
“You look just like the Old Man and the Sea!”
The film highlights Hemingway’s rockstar status among the Cuban people — one woman lovingly calls out to him, “You look just like the Old Man and the Sea!” — as well as the disdain felt for him by the American FBI. While cameras flash and fans cheer Hemingway in the streets of Havana, the Bureau tries to get the expatriate out of the communist-held country by any means necessary. Caught in the middle is Petitclerc, soaking it all in to be written down later.
In real life, Petitclerc was a reporter for the Miami Herald and a former war correspondent. He wrote a letter to Hemingway and was invited to Cuba like the film shows, later following the author to Ketchum, Idaho, where they both lived out the rest of their lives — Hemingway committing suicide in 1961; Petitclerc dying from lung cancer in 2006.
Petitclerc also developed a screenplay for Hemingway’s posthumously published Islands in the Stream. The film starred George S. Scott (Patton, A Christmas Carol) as Thomas Hudson, the fictional version of Hemingway and the book’s/film’s protagonist.
Petitclerc also wrote the pilot and several episodes of The High Chaparral, along with the book version of Steve McQueen’s film Le Mans — Le Mans 24. He wrote the script for Papa, as well.
Hemingway in Cuba is the first American film to be shot in Cuba since the communist revolution of the 1950s and ’60s. Production was completed in 2014, with its 2016 release coinciding with the easing of tensions between the two countries.
Watch the official trailer below. Papa: Hemingway in Cuba hits theaters April 29.