The Outs­po­ken Charm of Ha­bano

DIS­TIN­GUIS­HED NA­MES OF SE­VE­RAL GE­NE­RA­TIONS OF AME­RI­CAN FILM PER­FOR­MERS HA­VE SUCCUMBED, ONE AF­TER THE OT­HER, MO­RE OR LESS FREQUENTLY, TO THE SPELLS OF THE BEST TO­BAC­CO IN THE WORLD

Habanos - - Summary - BY / LU­CIANO CAS­TI­LLO PHO­TOS / EX­CE­LEN­CIAS ARCHIVE

Ro­bert de Ni­ro and Sean Penn are not bound to Holly­wood only by their lo­ve for ci­ne­ma, nor by being among the most outs­tan­ding, de­man­ding and duc­ti­le ac­tors, win­ner of two Os­car Awards, nor even by tho­se who, not plea­sed with being in front of the ca­me­ras, ha­ve ven­tu­red in­to pro­du­cing and di­rec­ting with good re­sults and are en­cou­ra­ged by their support for pro­gres­si­ve cau­ses. So­meo­ne might think of a coin­ci­den­ce when you ta­ke a look at the cast of the co­medy We're Not An­gels. They are al­so dis­tin­guis­hed by an un­brid­led pas­sion for Ha­ba­nos. No one knows for su­re when they first ex­pe­rien­ced the de­light of puf­fing on them with the fa­mi­liar ring of smo­ke.

De Ni­ro, one of the grea­test per­for­mers in the his­tory of film­ma­king, com­pa­ra­ble only to the wings­pan of Mar­lon Bran­do -pas­sio­na­te about the tum­ba­do­ras he pla­yed in Ha­va­na del Cho­ri- per­haps dis­co­ve­red the Ha­ba­nos whi­le pla­ying the me­mo­ra­ble ro­le of the young Vi­to Cor­leo­ne in The God­fat­her II and no­ti­ced that film di­rec­tor Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la used to ner­vously light up one af­ter the ot­her. Al Pa­cino did not strip him­self of the plea­su­re of smo­king them du­ring the breaks of the shoot. But it could al­so be that the fa­mous New York Ta­xi Dri­ver was tem­pted to try them in his flee­ting vi­sit in De­cem­ber 1985 at the 8th In­ter­na­tio­nal Fes­ti­val of New La­tin Ame­ri­can Ci­ne­ma.

By then, he had fil­med Ro­land Jof­fe's The Mis­sion at lo­ca­tions in Car­ta­ge­na, and he still had his beard and hair tied up in a small pony­tail. When the per­son who brought him to the big screen, Brian de Pal­ma, ca­lled him to cha­rac­te­ri­ze Al Ca­po­ne in The Un­tou­cha­bles, he had no trou­ble smo­king with the sa­me de­lec­ta­tion the mob chief did.

At a stro­ke of ta­lent, Ca­li­for­nia na­ti­ve Sean Penn soon strip­ped him­self of the la­bels of "Ma­don­na's for­mer hus­band", "non­con­for­mist" and "re­bel wit­hout a cau­se" for a youth mar­ked by the every­day life of to­bac­co and al­cohol, as well as the re­jec­tion of the ta­bloids, but al­so for me­mo­ra­ble per­for­man­ces that prom­pted the com­pa­ri­son with Bran­do and De Ni­ro. An ac­tor li­ke Jack Ni­chol­son, Penn's run­ning ma­te in Los An­ge­les -he does not de­pri­ve him­self of ha­ving a box of Ha­ba­nos al­ways nearb­yon­ce de­cla­red his ad­mi­ra­tion for the in­ten­se work do­ne by Penn, who en­joys di­rec­ting mo­re than ac­ting be­cau­se, ac­cor­ding to him, "as a di­rec­tor you ha­ve the ac­tors to do for you the dirty work, so that they ruin their li­ves be­cau­se of the feelings you want to express".

Just li­ke the Gol­den Age of Me­xi­can ci­ne­ma would ha­ve ne­ver been pos­si­ble wit­hout the in­gre­dient of the rum­ba girls im­por­ted from Cu­ba, the his­tory of ci­ne­ma would ha­ve been qui­te dif­fe­rent if Tho­mas Al­va Edi­son, one of tho­se who tried to win the great ra­ce of in­ven­tions that cul­mi­na­ted in the ci­ne­ma­to­graph of the Lu­miè­re brot­hers, had he not had

enough Ha­ba­nos in his works­hop whi­le he ma­na­ged to im­pro­ve the me­cha­nism of the early ca­me­ras. Cha­plin, an un­dis­pu­ted genius, sha­red the tas­te for Ha­ba­nos with anot­her sin­gu­lar co­me­dian, Grou­cho Marx, of whom it is ra­re to find a sin­gle pho­to­graph or co­medy sce­ne wit­hout a re­cog­ni­za­ble Ha­bano pres­sed bet­ween his lips.

Would ha­ve ma­de-in-Holly­wood film noir ever exis­ted wit­hout that foggy at­mosp­he­re of ci­gar smo­king Humph­rey Bo­gart and Lau­ren Ba­call con­tri­bu­ted to, just to men­tion but one of the most re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve couples of the gen­re? The outs­tan­ding na­mes of se­ve­ral ge­ne­ra­tions of Ame­ri­can film per­for­mers ha­ve succumbed, one af­ter the ot­her, mo­re or less frequently, to the outs­po­ken charm of Ha­ba­nos: from Paul New­man, Mi­chael Dou­glas, Ni­cho­las Ca­ge, Aus­tra­lia's Mel Gib­son and Hugh Jack­man, Ar­nold Sch­war­ze­neg­ger, Syl­ves­ter Sta­llo­ne, De­mi Moo­re, Whoo­pi Gold­berg, Leo­nar­do DiCa­prio, Andy Gar­cia, Will Smith... and even Fa­ye Du­na­way, the big-screen blon­de Bon­nie.

Clint East­wood can­not be ru­led out eit­her. Ita­lian screenw­ri­ter and di­rec­tor Ser­gio Leo­ne ele­va­ted him to the rank of le­gend with the dollar tri­logy of his Wes­tern Spag­het­ti mo­vies fil­med in Al­me­ria lo­ca­tions, so dis­tant from the Grand Can­yon of Co­lo­ra­do, that he ti­re­lessly brought in a heavy smo­ker li­ke John Ford. A cha­rac­ter from the myt­ho­logy of the big screen, Ja­mes Bond, the Agent 007, has ap­pea­red mo­re than on­ce with a ci­gar in his hand, es­pe­cially two of the most me­mo­ra­ble ac­tors ever to play that ro­le: Pier­ce Bros­nan and Da­niel Craig.

Whi­le fil­ming Breath­less (À Bout de Souf­flé) in the streets of Pa­ris back in 1959, an in­co­rrup­ti­ble Go­dard got used to the ha­bit of smo­king ci­gars ma­de in Cu­ba and has ne­ver been able to do wit­hout them. His lea­ding ac­tor, Jean-Paul Bel­mon­do, the "man from Rio", was al­so fond of smo­king Ha­ba­nos.

Many years la­ter, he re­tur­ned to work for him in lo­ca­tions in Cien­fue­gos and Old Ha­va­na in the mo­vie Ama­zo­ne (2000), per­haps as a pre­text to know the pro­cess of ro­lling ci­gars in a few fac­to­ries and sto­res. Let's re­mem­ber that Hum­ber­to So­lás pla­ced the main cha­rac­ter of Lu­cia's se­cond story (1968) pre­ci­sely in Cien­fue­gos.

No­ne of the ac­tors, ac­tres­ses or di­rec­tors who pa­ra­de along this pa­no­ra­mic rou­te has been able to break free from the irre­sis­ti­ble charm of the Ha­bano. Qui­te the op­po­si­te: they fully en­joy that plea­su­re that seems to co­me from hea­ven.

TH­ROUGH DIF­FE­RENT FA­CES, THE HA­BANO CO­MES TO THE BIG SCREEN TO INS­PI­RE AND PLEA­SE

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