Anthology films have a way to become a rather aimless exercise where a number of filmmakers work out their short-form skills around a suggested theme or location, usually to rather disappointing returns and a general sense of "why did they bother?". While 7 Days in Havana has a somewhat stronger backbone than most - each of the seven directors handles one day of the week, based on scripts or a "bible" of ideas and connecting characters from celebrated local novelist Leonardo Padura - and an intriguing roster of global helmers, the end result is as generally disappointing and aimless as in most of these efforts.

     Part of the problem is that this Franco-Spanish co-production was partly funded by rum company Havana Club, tainting the project with a soft-sell product-placement message that is all the more unfair for being so obviously untrue. Another part is that the film gets off to a disastrous start, with the three initial episodes falling for every single tourist trap, inconsequential anecdote and overwrought cliché the idea of Havana conjures. Esteemed Argentine director Pablo Trapero's is probably the greatest disappointment - following Emir Kusturica's bleary, jet-lagged trip to pick up a career award redeemed by a casual jam session where his driver-cum-trumpeter shines, but relying ultimately in banal preconceptions and attempting to jazz up a non-existant script with some nervous handheld camera. 

     Thankfully, these are more than made up for by the two strongest and smartest sketches: Palestinian Elia Suleiman's quietly burlesque, deadpan-dry observation of the behind-the-scenes daily Cuba, and Franco-Argentine firebrand Gaspar Noé's unusually thoughtful, tranquil look at a ritual pagan celebration, both in line with their previous work as well as with the project's constraints. Cuban director Juan Carlos Tabío's and Frenchman Laurent Cantet's contributions are the most in tune with the idea of a more attentive, narrative look at daily Havana life that escapes the touristy clichés, actually showing a different look at the city - it's just that, stylistically, they're functional rather than inspired and, especially in Mr. Cantet's short, somewhat remote from his usual thoughtfulness. 

     What comes out of this free-for-all is one of those weird cadavres exquis that are promising on paper but end up leaving a sour after-taste, like a suggestive meal that turns out to be flavourless and disappointing.

El Yuma
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Vladimir Cruz, Daisy Granados, Claríola Muñiz, Rebeca Proenza
Director: Benicio del Toro
Screenplay: Leonardo Padura
Editor: Rich Fox

Jam Session
Cast: Emir Kusturica, Alexander Abreu
Director: Pablo Trapero
Screenplay: Alejandro Fadel, Martín Máuregui, Santiago Mitre, Mr. Trapero
Editors: Santiago Esteves, Mr. Trapero

La Tentación de Cecília (Cecília's Temptation)
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Melvis Estévez, Leo Benítez
Director and editor: Julio Medem
Screenplay: Mr. Padura, Mr. Medem

Diary of a Beginner
Cast, director and writer: Elia Suleiman
Editor: Véronique Lange

Cast: Cristela de la Caridad Herrera, Othello Rensoli
Director, writer and cinematographer: Gaspar Noé
Costumes: Omaima Salem
Editors: Mr. Noé, Thomas Fernández

Dulce Amargo (Bitter Sweet)
Cast: Mirtha Ibarra, Jorge Perugorría, Ms. Estévez
Director: Juan Carlos Tabío
Screenplay: Mr. Padura
Editor: Berta Frías

La Fuente (The Fountain)
Cast: Nathalia Amore, Mr. Rensoli, Andrés Vidal, Alexis Vidal
Director and writer: Laurent Cantet
Editor: Alexandro Rodríguez

All episodes (except where indicated)
Cinematography: Daniel Aranyó, Diego Dussuel  (colour, processing by Technicolor)
Music: Xavi Turull with Descemer Bueno and Kelvis Ochoa
Art direction and costumes: Juan Pedro de Gaspar

Producers: Álvaro Longoria, Gaël Nouaille, Laurent Baudens, Didar Domehri, Fabien Pisani (Full House and Morena Films, with the collaboration of Havana Club International, in association with Backup Films, Sofica Coficup, Palatine Étoile 8 & 9, Chaocorp Distribution and M&C Saatchi.GAD)
Spain/France, 2012, 129 minutes

Screened: distributor advance screener DVD, Lisbon, September 8th 2012


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