A sparkling array of top-tier international directors join together for a sub-par anthology film celebrating the Cuban capital.
Love letters to cities in the form of anthology films have become something of a staple on the contemporary cinematic landscape. 2006 brought us Paris, Je T’aime, in 2009 came its sequel, New York, I Love You, so now please welcome the spiritual, if not literal, threequel: 7 Days in Havana.
Spanning, as the title helpfully indicates, Monday to Sunday in the Cuban capital, the film is a made up of seven dramatic shorts directed by such (male) international luminaries as Gaspar Noé, Elia Suleiman, Benicio Del Toro and Laurent Cantet.
Internationalism inspires every element of production with a grand total of six nations (France, Spain, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Palestine and Cuba) contributing through directing, writing and funding. Most of the shorts feature gringos finding a way to connect with Havana and all the sultry, soulful joys it contains.
In the case of El Yuma (Del Toro), an American film student befriends a woman who isn’t all she seems. Jam Session (Pablo Trapero) focuses on an acclaimed Serbian director transcending his daily disillusionment through local music.
A dark left-turn away from these up-tempo journeys of discovery comes in the form of Ritual (Gaspar Noé). It sees a young lesbian schoolgirl suffering a cleansing ritual to an austere drumbeat in a shadowy river. It’s confusing, compulsive and terrifying, exactly what we'd expect from Mr Irreversible.
Narratively, there is no link between the seven vignettes and, tonally, this makes for a bumpy ride. Principle characters are overshadowed by Havana itself and it takes far too long for each short to really get going. Frustrating doesn’t cover it. There are exceptions where the protagonists manage to transcend the superficial: Cecilia in La Tentación de Cecilia (Julio Medem) pops up in Dulca Amargo (Juan Carlos Tabio) but the film mysteriously makes no allusion to her backstory. Oh Cecilia…
If there is a thread that runs through the sprawling 126-minute run-time it’s the prominence of music within the fabric of local culture. Whether its funky salsa, honey-voiced singers or monotonous drums, the film has rhythm that defies language or even story-telling.
7 Days in Havana boasts a potent and infectious atmosphere, but it’s hard to come away with a single tangible point from the enterprise as a whole.
Bursting to capacity with top-tier international directors.
The grip loosens the further we trek. Plus, the quality is variable to say the least.
Outruns itself. We'll take 2 Days in Havana.