When 25 years ago Cuban writer Leonardo Padura created Mario Conde he never imagined that “so many nice things” would happen to him with this character. Now, the author of the famous tetralogy Las cuatro estaciones is expecting the leap to cinema of his most popular novels.
Directed by Spanish filmmaker Félix Viscarret, a film starring one of the most loved characters of Cuban detective literature will be premiered this year, a project nurtured for a long time, as Padura confessed.
In 2016 the film version of the saga will see the light, since what first started out with the version of “Havana Gold” later became another three chapters for a TV series, Padura said last Feb. 26 in the space of the cultural Thursdays in the Spanish embassy in Havana.
He also said he was very happy with the work of Cuban actor Jorge Perugorría starring as Mario Conde, who “attained a spectacular characterisation.”
Even though he is pleased with the first film, he revealed that writing scripts for that genre is much more complicated. “I find it very attractive to write for cinema, but what I like is writing novels. While the novel is the kingdom of freedom, for a script one has to distance oneself and be aware that it is a work of service, since afterwards the director makes his interpretations,” he pointed out.
People said the four books were very “cinematographic” and when trying to take them to the silver screen we became aware of how difficult it was to make their versions in a script, he commented during a talk dedicated to the 25 years of Mario Conde.
The four films were shot in just four months to complete the saga, it was very hard work, Padura explained.
Mario Conde is a “self-sufferer,” the only thing that saves him is that he is very Cuban. As Perugorría would say, he is a “great Cuban,” added the writer, also co-author of the scripts for Seven Days in Havana and Return to Ithaca.
“I filled him with so many concerns and conflicts that I came up with an anti-detective that functions more with premonitions and enlightenments. Conde and I have some shared tastes and I have used him to express some of my concerns: literary, social…. We also have some life experiences in common,” he said.
And he confessed: At times people in the street ask me about him as if he were a real person. In the beginning Conde resembled me. With the passage of time I believe I am becoming him.
A short time ago, Padura started a novel that begins with Conde’s 60th birthday and he wants it to end on December 16, 2014, when Cubans celebrate the day before San Lázaro Day and precisely because that date represents the end of a stage and the normalisation of relations with the United States.
“Moreover, I would love to write a book about the world of the Cubans in Miami, though it is difficult – at least for me – to write about a city and a reality about which I don’t have all the codes,” he added.
Conde lives in a very closed and Havana universe, in fact, for me the Cuban capital is a fundamental character, but the city seen from the so-called periphery, from the peculiar angle of those barrios and how little by little many spaces in them are being lost, like in the entire city, the author of La novella de mi vida specified.
According to him, the films are closer to the detective genre: “when I wrote ‘Havana Gold’ I was writing a detective novel that would not resemble the others of that type written in Cuba.”
But I did have it clear in my mind that the protagonist had to be a detective with an existential and intellectual streak, he added. For Padura, books are a sort of false detective novel because what is central are “the social conflicts around the dead person.”
The team behind the Mario Conde films
With a script by Padura and his wife, Cuban filmmaker Lucía Coll, Viscarret is returning to the director’s chair in Havana Gold, which he has not sat on since his prise-winning opera prima Bajo las estrellas. The filmmaker said a short time ago that the project is “an honour” and “a tremendous responsibility” but also “a great gift.”
Cuban actor Jorge Perugorría spoke with Padura 15 years ago about “how fantastic” it would be to transfer the character to film and he has been “dreaming about the idea” for all that time, because though several proposals had appeared, none of them had concretised.
“When I was very young as a reader I approached Mario Conde and I greatly enjoyed his novels, his experiences are rather common among Cubans,” commented Perugorría.
Some people tell me they “don’t see me as Mario Conde” and that usually happens with characters from literature as well-known as this one: it is a challenge to face the collective imagination of the people and each one has their own version, he added.
“It is very easy for my generation to understand Conde and his disappointments, many of our dreams and hopes that did come true, as happened to him,” the actor added.
Havana Gold – a Spanish-Cuban-German production – mainly concentrates on the novel by the same name. Later on, another three episodes were added for television, which take elements from other pieces of the tetralogy.
In addition to Perugorría, the film stars Enrique Molina as Major Rangel and Carlos Enrique Almirante as Sergeant Manuel Palacios, the protagonist’s comrade in his detective adventures.
Laura Ramos plays Tamara, Conde’s first love; Luis Alberto García is Carlos “El Flaco,” the character’s best friend wounded during the Angola war; and Aurora Basnuevo is Josefina, the latter’s mother.
Colombian Juana Acosta plays Karina, an engineer lover of the saxophone who disrupts the life of the detective in an intense love story.
The script contains scenes in the Havana barrios of Mantilla, Vibora, Vedado and Nuevo Vedado, but some locations were changed and the interiors were filmed in Tenerife.
The saga of the four seasons
Translated into 22 languages, the tetralogy of Las cuatro estaciones is made up by “Havana Blue” (1991), “Havana Gold” (1994), “Havana Red” (1997) and “Havana Black” (1998), novels that have as a character a sui generis detective, cultured, sensitive and with aspirations of a writer: Mario Conde.
The character reappeared later in Adios Hemingway (2001), Havana Fever (2005), La cola de la serpiente (2011) and Herejes (2013).
Currently, in addition to the films by Félix Viscarret, a series is being produced (between the United States and Canada) based on the tetralogy and with Spaniard Antonio Banderas as the protagonist.
In addition to being one of the most followed writers on the island, on October 23, 2015, Padura became the first Cuban to receive the Princess of Asturias Prize for Literature in a ceremony during which he took a baseball – this country’s national sport – as a way of recalling the Havana barrio of Mantilla where he was born. (2016)
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