Bags don’t get more mixed than 7 Days in Havana, a Cuba-themed anthology that compiles seven short films from directors Benicio Del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Elia Suleiman, Gaspar Noe, Juan Carlos Tabio, and Laurence Cantet.
As expected, the quality of the shorts varies; the degree to which they vary, however, is surprising. 7 Days in Havana is vaguely similar in conception to the Emmanuel Benbihy-produced Paris, je t’aime/New York, I Love You films, which also varied in quality with the talent involved. The segments in those films were less than half as long as the ones here, however, which get a little more time to breathe.
That’s not always a good thing. In Del Toro’s opening segment, “El Yuma”, an American actor (Josh Hutcherson) spends a night women-watching in Havana bars before hooking up with a transvestite. It’s a pleasant-enough sketch with a good feel for Havana nightlife, but pretty light, with a finale that doesn’t go far enough. (Mostly in English)
Pablo Trapero’s “Jam Session” fares a bit better. Yugoslav director Emir Kusterica stars as himself, perpetually drunk while in Havana to pick up an award at a film festival; the story doesn’t go far, but features some excellent music. (Mostly in English)
“Cecilia’s Temptation” is a complete joke; this ham-fisted telenovela that wants to take itself seriously is so poor that I could not believe it had come from director Julio Medem (Sex & Lucia). It’s an embarrassment for both the director and the film, and should have been excised. (In Spanish)
Elia Suleiman’s “Diary of a Beginner” is a terrific little Lost in Translation-like riff featuring the director himself roaming Havana locales. Featuring gorgeous postcard-perfect cinematography, this segment showcases a side of Havana not seen in the rest of the film, and for many will be the best 7 Days in Havana has to offer. (Mostly without dialogue)
But my favorite has to be Gaspar Noe’s “Ritual”, which is significantly shorter than the rest of the shorts but manages to subtly convey its story while creating an almost overwhelming sense of dread through the director’s trademark (Irreversible, Enter the Void) style. (Without dialogue)
“Dulce Amargo”, from Juan Carlos Tabio, is the perfect dessert after Noe’s segment: light and frothy and mostly insignificant, with a focus on cooking and desserts that is bound to make you hungry. (In Spanish)
Finally, Laurent Cantet’s “The Fountain” is a modest but ultimately heavy-handed little community get-together piece anchored by a strong central performance by non-pro Nathalia Amore. It runs long, however, exacerbating the film’s already-long 129-minute runtime. (In Spanish)
Ultimately, for the Noe and Suleiman segments (and, to a lesser extent, the Trapero), 7 Days in Havana is worth catching. The Del Toro, Tabio, and Cantet sections won’t exactly turn you off either; just take a break during the Medem section. The finished product paints an appealing portrait of Havana from a set of diverse viewpoints, mostly achieving the film’s goal.