A Day in Havana with Benicio del Toro
By: Mireya Castañeda, Photos by Prensa Latina
“Havana is a wonderful place, not only for its architecture and climate, but also for its people,” commented Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, who has just finished filming the first story of 7 Days in Havana, an ensemble film starring the Cuban capital.
At precisely the conclusion of Del Toro’s first work as a director, he held a press conference at which attended three of the other filmmakers involved in the film: Argentinean Pablo Trapero, Palestinian Elia Suleimann and Cuban Juan Carlos Tabío. Rounding out the seven involved in making the film are Argentinean Gaspar Noé, Spaniard Julio Médem and Frenchman Laurent Cantet.
In the introduction, Spanish producer Álvaro Longoria said “because of its versatility and charm, portraying Havana may seem easy. But it’s nothing of the kind. We were not satisfied with the usual topics, old American cars, the charm of the mulatto women, or buildings about to collapse. The objective is to go to the essence of this very special city and its people.”
Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, who underwrites some of the scripts for 7 Days in Havana and assures the chapter films’ congruity with each other, explained that the stories take place in 24 hours of each day of the week. He said that while each is a specific story, some characters are involved across segments, and places like the Hotel Nacional and the Malecón are common scenarios for some vignettes, giving coherence to the film.
Benicio del Toro, with a brilliant acting career in movies such as Traffic, The Argentine, and 21 Grams, as well as winner of the Oscar, Golden Globe and Cannes Palme d’Or Awards, is behind the camera for the first time to film a screenplay by Padura. He was the person in charge of beginning to film 7 Days in Havana.
His story, “The Yuma”, as North Americans are called in Cuba, had locations on streets in the Vedado neighbourhood, among them La Rampa, Hotel Nacional – venue of the Havana Film Festival – and, farther on, in the colonial Prado area and along the Malecón.
The greatest challenge he faced, said Del Toro, was scheduling the shots. What he most enjoyed were the actors, among them US Josh Hutcherson and Cuban Vladimir Cruz (in the leading roles), along with important figures of Cuban cinema like Daysi Granados, Laura de la Uz and Luis Alberto García.
“Those who worked on the film gave from their hearts. I feel very proud to be working with them.” This segment chronicles the escapades of a young North American (Hutcherson) who arrives in Cuba to attend a seminar at the Film School in San Antonio de los Baños. He stays at the Hotel Nacional and winds up in an adventure in which he becomes acquainted with a less touristy Havana through a taxi driver (Vladimir Cruz). The key to “The Yuma” is comedy, and Del Toro commented that he filmed enough “for three movies,” and now must edit it to the allotted 15 minutes.
In a brief exchange with Cubaplus about his projects, the actor confirmed that he has several scripts in the pipeline. He said the possibility exists of participating in Kusturica’s new film about Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, which, according to some early versions, will be titled Pancho Villa’s Seven Friends and the Woman with Six Fingers.
Del Toro also said he would like to try “a more ambitious project” and that his models are directors John Huston and Steven Soderbergh.
According to the producers, filming 7 Days in Havana will be completed May 6th, with possible release at the end of this year in a major festival - “in the International Festival for New Latin American Cinema, if they invite us,” said Del Toro.