Ernest Hemingway’s stories have given us some of the greatest films of all time: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, “Having or not to have” with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
The rights to Hemingway’s lesser-known last novel sat in production limbo for years. John Huston opted for the book for a while and even commissioned a screenplay. Robert Altman tried in vain.
Finally, a new film adaptation of Hemingway’s “Across the River and into the Trees” will make its world premiere at the Sun Valley Film Festival, not far from the author’s final resting place in Ketchum.
Robert MacLean is a producer of the film.
“Obviously it’s not one of his best books, but there are elements of the book that made a great story for a movie,” MacLean said.
“Across the River” tells the bittersweet story of a highly decorated soldier haunted by war and lost in the world, played by Liev Schreiber. During a visit to Venice, he meets a local aristocrat.
“For a moment, time stood still,” MacLean said.
The two spend 48 hours together. She is looking for a future. He cannot escape his past.
“She makes it kind of human again,” MacLean said. “They are there for each other before heading in their own directions to their separate destinies.”
The story contains many of Hemingway’s iconic themes: love, war, aging, mortality, and redemption. As a reporter, the mythical writer followed the war all over the world. Ultimately, the film has an anti-war message, studying a character who follows orders from politicians to lead young men into battle.
“The movie, unfortunately, resonates a little more than it did a few months ago because of the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine right now,” MacLean said.
Paula Ortiz directed, countering Hemingway’s typical machismo. The development team consciously gave the female lead more work, MacLean said.
“I read Huston’s script – I didn’t find it very good,” MacLean said. “The female character wasn’t that great in the scripts and she wasn’t that great in the book.”
He went to Venice with his daughter for pre-production in early 2020. Due to the first COVID-19 lockdown, they stayed three months longer than planned.
During that time, they had watched seven seasons of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.” In the end, they knew they had their main man in Schreiber.
Schreiber co-stars alongside Matilda De Angelis. The rising Italian actress, seen in HBO’s ‘The Undoing’, started out as a busker.
The rest of the cast includes a roster of theater veterans and character actors, including John Huston’s son, Danny Huston.
Filming on location in Venice is notoriously difficult, due to the canals.
“In a weird way, we ended up being really lucky because we shot it during the pandemic and everything was shut down all over town,” MacLean said. “There was not a peek in the streets of Venice as we filmed.”
During production, he bonded with the cast and crew.
“We were locked up in Venice, so we became like family together,” MacLean said.
Now, it is time to make public this work that is close to his heart.
“It’s a precious thing,” MacLean said. “You want to handle these projects carefully [and] show them on the big screen to grateful audiences.