Thursday, December 15, 2016


Jorge Perugorria as Conde

Just when I was getting fed up with Netflix following PBS into Disneyfied versions of JJ Abrams’ teen-girl world view (even Anne of Green Gables, for pete’s sake, with gentle Matthew played by Martin Sheen, sleazeball, and Marilla cast as Sara Botsford, a twitchy obsessive thin woman — but who would want to follow Colleen Dewhurst? ), along comes “Four Seasons in Havana”, a story for grownups.  No car chases, few guns, lots of talk and sex.

The detective hero of this noir thriller is a guy named Mario Conde.  His boss laments “I don’t want an officer with an existential problem who would rather write books.”  But when Conde leaves, his boss smiles fondly.  The man is the sort depicted by Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, and Branagh as Wallander.  He’s a walking wreck, but his intelligence makes us love him.  Jorge Perugorria, the actor, is unknown to us; we don’t know what he will do and neither does the character.

The real protagonist of this series is Havana itself, which also has an existential problem but almost constitutes a bedrock novel by its very nature.  One could happily watch this show with the sound off, to better appreciate the fabulous views, the top down overhead shots of the buildings that reveal courtyards, atria, and even rooftop swimming pools.  Buildings range from Soviet brutalist insectoid concrete housing to disintegrating Baroque splendour festooned with parasitic tropical vegetation.  All is pale except for rectangles of sienna and turquoise.

Critics are reflecting that streaming mini-series with strong story lines suitable for “marathoning” are the new novel form.  It seems that the best “minis” are the ones drawn from excellent books.  I found these “Four Seasons”, to be a powerful experience and there are more sets to come.  At first it seems rather simple and leisurely, which is good since we need to soak in the ambiance until it penetrates our skin.  Since this creative team is not familiar to most of us, I’m going to quote the references I found by Googling.  Most of them are from Wiki’s, so there’s no one to credit.

The most seductive and enveloping element of this series is the music.  Sax and brass, with a bit of guitar, this is lovably old-fashioned like so much in Cuba.  It is erotic, shameless, and longing.  I remember it, but kids won’t.


Andres Levin is a Venezuelan-born American record producer, bandleader, filmmaker, recording engineer and philanthropist. Levin won a Grammy Award in 2009 for his production of the In the Heights cast recording.[1] His Grammy-nominated[2] Latin fusion band Yerba Buena was founded along with Cuban-American singer Cucu Diamantes.
Levin has been called the "master-chef of urban fusion" by the Los Angeles Times.[3]

Leonardo de la Caridad Padura Fuentes (born 1955) is a Cuban novelist and journalist. As of 2007, he is one of Cuba's best known writers internationally. In English and some other languages, he is often referred to by the shorter form of his name, Leonardo Padura. He has written movie scripts, two books of short stories and a series of detective novels translated into 10 languages. In 2012, Padura was awarded the National Prize for Literature, Cuba's national literary award and the most important award of its kind. In 2015, was awarded with Premio Principe de Asturias de las Letras of Spain, the most important prize in Iberoamerica and usually called as the Iberoamerican Nobel Prize.. . .

He wrote his first short novel between 1983 and 1984. Titled Fiebre de caballos (Horse Fever), it was basically a love story. He then spent the next six years continuing to work as a journalist, reporting on a wide range of cultural and historical topics. However around this time he began to write his first novel featuring police officer Mario Conde, and while he was writing it, Padura realised how fundamental his years as a journalist were to his development as a writer. Firstly it gave him a whole new experience of the country, and secondly, it consequently changed his style with respect to his first book.

Padura has published two subsequent books featuring Conde, the novella Adiós Hemingway (Padura’s first book to be translated into English, in 2005), and a recent novel La neblina del ayer (The Fog of Yesterday). The Havana-Cultura website comments on the similarities and differences between Padura and Hemingway and how they might explain his decision to feature the expatriate American in Adiós Hemingway.


Jorge has made fifty films!  None of which I know and I’m betting I’m not alone in this, but I hope Netflix finds an audience and streams them all.  Considering our current politics, It seems vital.  More than being an actor, his lively interview linked above shows he’s a creative force in several dimensions.  One of the pleasures of “Four Seasons” is the art work in the sets, but Jorge himself is also a painter and a good one.  One “season” in the series is about art forgery and the corrupt seizure of valuable works during the overthrow of Battista, almost like the Nazi raids on Jewish works of art.

The gay culture of Florida remains attuned to Cuba which is far more liberal about people who are different to the point of eccentric, yet numerous enough to form communities.  Another plot line is about a young gay man who is killed while wearing a quite fabulous ruffled crimson dress (almost plumage), though he is not a transvestite.  

Questions about the nature of love, both sexual and parental, are continuing threads in this existential exploration.  Good buddies count for a lot.  And of course, the whole issue of an authoritarian state that relies on secrecy and personal favors pervades all action in a detective thriller.  But the biggest force is always the surrounding sea and the end of this four-part engulfing world is a hurricane.  Good thing the hero writes on an old-fashioned typewriter that doesn’t need electricity or the Internet.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the first episode (haven't seen 2,3,4)..... Reminds me of FILM NOIR of the 40's & 50's....... Liked the actors, music, views of the city....BRUCE

Anonymous said...

Great series. Now read the novels. The movies follow them closely, and the sultry atmosphere is right on, but the language is so much richer in the writing.


Mary Strachan Scriver said...

My rule is no anonymous posts. I guess I'll let initials count as a name. Thanks for the tip.