If you’re feeling unfit this summer whilst watching young nubile Olympians race around the track and feel it’s time you had a work-out, forget skipping down to you local over-priced gym. The arduous endurance test that is 7 Days in Havana (2012) will leave you just as tired and sweaty as an hour on the exercise bike.
Comprised of seven shorts spanning – you guessed it – seven days in Havana, this mixed bag of booze, brass and bewilderment boasts the talents of some choice cinema rebels such as Benicio Del Toro, Elia Suleiman, Gaspar Noé and Laurent Cantet. Whilst it aspires to greater things than most other anthology films such as the Paris, Je t’aime (2006) and New York, I Love You (2009), in reality it’s a bloated and self indulgent arthouse marathon, riddled with cynical product placement from the company who financed the film.
It’s not a complete waste of good celluloid however. The first and best of the shorts, Benicio Del Toro’s El Yuma, contains some amusing, snappy dialogue and inventive camera work – his tale of a film student’s drunken night in Havana could easily have been extended. Unfortunately, as soon as you’re getting to know the character, the next short pops up and you never see him on screen again.
Pablo Trapero’s offering Jam Session has its moments but the story of the soggy and confused Serbian film director never really gets going. In fact, it’s only the solo trumpet scene – easily the finest minute in the entire anthology – that lingers in the memory.
As for the rest, Elia Suleiman’s dialogue-free Diary of a Beginner has its charms but is squashed in the middle, its snail-like pace encouraging the mind to wander. Noé’s drumbeat-fuelled cleansing ritual is mysterious but tedious, and although the sultry singer in La Tentación de Cecilia and Dulca Amargo is a sight for tired eyes, the attempts at steamy erotica fail to arouse.
We can assume that one of the main purposes of this exercise was to show Havana in a positive light and tempt potential tourists with promises of dirty dancing and rum-soaked fun, and to some extent it achieves that goal. The city looks like a beautiful and interesting place to visit, but whilst we get glimpses of the architecture and culture, you’re left with the distinct feeling that all of the shorts failed to penetrate the real heart of the city. Perhaps it should have been left to Cuban filmmakers, rather than these pampered bourgeois tourists, to tell the real tales of life in Havana.