My stack of old movies that need to be watched or re-watched included Havana (1990) with Robert Redford and Lena Olin. After a tough week that included a flood in my office, I felt incapable of cooking anything that required much thought. My go-to-comfort-dish of spaghetti with meat sauce was the perfect endeavor while I slow watched a movie that seemed a little too long in the first place. This movie was 2 hours and 20 minutes long so by the time I paused, backed up and re-watched my favorite scenes, it took me all night to watch… while my meat sauce simmered and reduced and filled the house with the most amazing aroma. And while I sipped a nice big Tuscan red wine. And while I doled out dog treats and peanut butter. And finally managed to relax.
So before I look at what the critics said about Havana, let me just say I thought it was about thirty minutes too long. But if that means you have to watch Robert Redford and Lena Olin an extra half hour, is that really so bad? I would have liked a little more Raul Julia on the screen but that’s just because he’s one of my favorite actors. The political plot highlighted a moment in not-so-ancient history that was fascinating. The love story was compelling and almost believable. Redford was thoroughly believable as a jaded gambler who goes from skirt chasing to true love when he meets an idealistic young woman whose high-minded activism challenges his narcisissm. What I liked about this romantic relationship was that he really respected her. I loved the interior scenes of pre-Castro casinos and grand old restaurants. The director managed to juxtapose the idealism of a revolutionary movement against the decadence of a greedy corrupt regime. As always in love and war, there is a huge gray area where right and wrong get muddled, and that’s where this story unfolded. in the end, the gambler’s true character was revealed by his act of selfless generosity. The sun set in Key West with a wistful view toward Cuba. I admit a tear or two welled in my eyes. I looked at the clock. It took me almost three hours to watch this movie! It was a great way to spend the first night of the weekend, and I went to bed feeling like I had spent a week in Havana!
Now here is some of what Janet Maslin said in The New York Times about this movie: “The romance of Sydney Pollack’s sprawling, atmospheric “Havana” is real, but it has almost nothing to do with love. Instead it concerns a place, the city of the title, which is hurtling toward irrevocable change and is very near the brink. The year is 1958, the time a densely eventful week before Christmas Eve and New Year’s, in the last moments before the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista’s regime.” Maslin goes on to say there is not much chemistry between Redford and Olin. “Mutual respect and admiration flow intermittently between them,” she says. [I must be really old because I mistook mutual respect for chemistry.] “The glittering decadence of this culture on the verge of collapse is in fact the film’s most fascinating aspect,” according to Maslin. Maslin blamed a lot of the problems with this movie on the screenplay and I would agree with that as some of Redford’s lines seemed pretty, well, dumb… on the other hand, his character was a professional card player whose life was an adrenalin charged hedonistic adventure until he fell in love with a woman of substance who CHANGED him. Now, that’s a romantic notion, right? I like Maslin’s description of the film as atmospheric. She’s right. The images are sticking with me the morning after I slow-watched it Friday night.