PARIS – In many ways, Cuban crime thriller “Four Seasons in Havana,” a four-part mini-series, is a first. The Frank Spotnitz-Nicholas Meyer showrun “Medicis: Masters of Florence” was showcased in three excerpts at early April’s MipDrama Screenings. But, unveiled via its first two 45-minute episodes at Series Mania, “Four Seasons” is the first series from Wild Bunch TV, a new sales-financing division, to receive a world premiere screening.
The first major TV series from Spain’s Tornasol Films, a force in Spanish/Latin American movie production, producer of Juan José Campanella’s Academy Award winning “The Secret in Their Eyes,” “Four Seasons in Havana” is also the first Caribbean Noir. It adapts Leonardo Padura four crime novels published over 1991-98, taking in Cuba’s Special Period, when it was plunged into penury by the break-up of the Soviet Union, and an end to Soviet aid.
Written by Lucia Lopez Coll and Padura and directed by Spain’s Felix Viscarret (“Under the Stars”), “Four Seasons in Havana” pits the color, music, sensuality and rambunctiousness of Cuba against not only crime and corruption in high places but, in Jorge Perugorria’s cornerstone performance as Captain Mario Conde, the overwhelming solitude of a romantic condemned to affairs, who dreams of marriage and family, though he knows it will never happen. Few gumshoes, in the final analysis, are so melancholy.
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Variety talked to Padura and Viscarret on how they approached the small-screen big series adaptation of Cuba’s most celebrated crime novels.
What were the main challenges in adapting your own novels?
Leonardo Padura: When my wife, the Cuban screenwriter Lucia López Coll, and I set out to work on the screenplays, we quickly realized that we had to step back from the novels. People said they were very cinematographic. But the stories were too literary. So we set out to draw up a framework of events, restructuring the story.
For many viewers,” Four Seasons in Havana” will unveil a new world: Cuba
Padura: From the very beginning, we were very conscious we couldn’t compete with U.S. crime dramas in budgets, recourses, their ambience and reality. Where we could make the series stand apart, however, was the atmosphere, the Cuban character, its social and psychological context. We wanted to forefront the sensuality of Cubans, the sensorial: Music they listen to, their attitude towards eating, how they relate to one another, touch, kiss, look at other people straight in the eye. That also has a sexual component. “The Winds of Lent” is a love story: Sex is highly important. And it’s present in the murder act, and the reason behind it.
The series is also a police drama. One way or another, you often have both elements in play – Cuba, the sense of Noir – such as in an aerial shot of a humble hood in Havana, it’s tropical-colored roof terraces acquiring the look of an abstract painting, accompanied by a wane trumpet which delivers a classic touch of Noirish melancholy.
Félix Viscarret: One thing I think Lucia, you Leonardo and I had clear was that we had to establish a balance between the noir police thriller, part of an international genre, and the reality of Cuba, its generational crisis, so that both were attractive to viewers and “Four Seasons in Havana” could work both in and outside Cuba. I kept on saying to my director of photography, ‘Darkness has never been so colorful.’ What Havana hides can be sensual, lascivious, colorful. Our night-work, I hope, catches something of that. Havana streets have little public lighting, they’re chiaroscuro, suggesting promise and temptation.
“Four Seasons in Havana” has been called Caribbean Noir. One hallmark of noir is the distinctive character of the detective. “Four Seasons’” Mario Conde is a very distinctive detective indeed.
Padura: Conde is at the heart of every episode. He channels their perspective. The way he works through a case, how they affect him, ethically, and as a cop: That’s key. Then there’s the generational aspect: He expresses the sentiments of a Cuban generation, their way of understanding its hopes, frustrations, its memories and sense of being forgotten, expressed from the perspective of my novels.
Viscarret: There’s a contrast in Conde between his deep knowledge of reality and human weakness and his private life, where he’s almost like a boy, a dreamer, who falls head-over-heels in love. He’s hugely talented as a policeman, but plays down his talent. He’s cultured, but easy-going with others. The more contradictory he is, the richer, more attractive and more human he is as a character.
“Four Seasons” stars Jorge Perugorria, the international face of Cuban filmmaking since he burst through in 1993’s “Strawberry and Chocolate.” How did he approach playing the most famous detective in Cuban literature?
Padura: I set out to give Conde a whole load of contradictions, a humanity which would create an empathy with audiences. If there’s one word to describe Jorge Perugorria’s performance, it’s “visceral.” I think he dreamed about playing this character because in a way he felt he was Mario Conde.
“Four Seasons in Havana’s” first episode, “The Winds of Lent,” often takes place in passageways, corridors, stairwells, the camera is often on the move. Why this style, Felix?
Viscarret: Havana is like a relationship: You never know the other person 100%. This is in your novels, Leonardo, a sense of mystery just beyond a corner. Nothing is uniform. Every nook and cranny has a surprise.
There’s also a large variety of shots, of Havana cityscapes, some familiar capturing the Hotel Nacional, others not
Padura: This multiplies throughout the series. Felix has revealed a Havana which even some Cubans don’t know, with a beauty and intimacy, respect and affection. The series bears witness to a Havana which in 10 years’ time might not exist.