EIFF 2012: 7 Days In Havana Review

★★★1/2☆

Spanish language anthology, 7 Days In Havana, as the title suggests, follows a week in Havana with a different short film representing each day. Featuring directorial turns from names such as Benicio Del Toro, Gaspar Noé and Julio Médem proves to be a extremely varied two hours. The anthology gets off to an excellent start, opening with three solid and entertaining shorts, however as is customary with this type of film, the quality varies rapidly with each of the later segments.

The opening segment, Benicio Del Toro’s El Yuma stars Josh Hutcherson as a young American actor arriving in Havana, then proceeding to explore the city’s bars. The short excels through Del Toro’s vivid representation of Havana’s bustling nightlife, capturing a sense of the music, heat and ambience of the city. This is supported by an incredibly charismatic appearance from Josh Henderson and enjoyable supporting turns from the Cuban cast.

Pablo Trapero’s Jam Session follows, telling us of a heavy-drinking Serbian film director, Emir Kusturica collecting an award in Havana. The filmmaker cannot bare the monotony of the post-award dinner so his driver takes him to a musical jam session. Like Del Toro’s segment, Trapero portrays Havana in a rich and diverse light, capturing a fusion of the vibrancy of the city. Jam Session places a large influence on the music of the city, with it being the basis on which Kusturica and his driver bond.

Julio Médem’s La tentadión de Cecilia is heartfelt romantic short, placing more emphasis on the characters than the actual city of Havana. Melvis Santa Estevez stars as night club singer torn between her professional baseball player boyfriend or whether to leave her homeland and move to Spain with a handsome hotel owner (Daniel Brühl). Despite the short lacking much originality, Médem’s vibrant direction and stellar performances ensure that La tentadión de Cecilia is engaging throughout.

Unfortunately it is Elia Suleiman’s Diary of a Beginner where the previously high quality of 7 Days In Havana rapidly dips. Thursday’s segment sees a foreign diplomat prepare for a meeting with Fidel Castro.  There is little to Diary of a Beginner apart from the lead character (played by Suleiman) simply observing prostitutes and tourists in a Havana bar. The humour is tedious, never particularly working and relying the same gag of the diplomat walking the wrong way to his hotel room several times.

Gaspar Noe’s Ritual follows taking up the Friday segment. We see two lesbians dancing on a brooding Havana night, the pair end up sleeping together. One of the girls’ parents soon walks in to see their daughter lying with another women, she is then put her through a ‘cleansing ritual’. This is perhaps the most visually stirring segment of the film, but is not enough to maintain interest for an extended period of time.

Juan Carlos Tabío’s short entitled Dulce amargo (Bittersweet) is a vast improvement to the prior two, capturing a hectic day in the life of a Cuban mother (Mirta Ibara), balancing both a life as a psychologist and part time baker. A sensational performance from Mirta Ibara and an amusing, heart-warming story, that tells us to make time for ourselves helps Dulce amargo to stand out as one of the film’s strongest shorts.

The final segment, Laurent Cantet’s La fuente (The Fountain) follows the residents of a shabby apartment block building a fountain for the Virgin Mary. Cantent’s portrait of a typical community feels truly authentic, capturing a convincing sense of camaraderie between the residents. This is a charming and pleasant look at Havana.

7 Days In Havana’s segments succeed on representing various sides to an incredibly diverse city – from the music filled, rum soaked nightlife to the lives of its’ everyday residents. Although the segments vary in quality – El Yuma, Jam Session, La tentadión de Cecilia, Dulce amargo and Le fuente are all thoroughly worth your time.

Andrew McArthur

Release: 22nd June, 2012 (EIFF) 6th July 2012(UK)
Directors: Benicio Del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Elia Suleiman, Gaspar NoéJuan Carlos Tabío ,Laurent Cantet
Stars: Josh Hutcherson,Emir KusturicaDaniel Brühl , Mirta Ibarra

7 DAYS IN HAVANA – Official UK Trailer – In Cinemas 6th July Published via LongTail.tv

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About Andrew McArthur

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Obsessed with all things film, TV and pop music. Worshiper of John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, James Franco, and awful Madonna films. You can find me on Twitter at @AndrewSMcArthur