Review: I am Cuba (1964) UR 141min
December 1st, 2008 by Maxim · No Comments · 4,290 Views
A classic… absolutely astonishing! I AM CUBA is that rarity of rarities, a genuine hidden treasure. It puts to shame anything we’re doing today.
Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 film “Soy Cuba” (a.k.a. I am Cuba in 1995 US release) depicts in several short stories the life on Cuba before the Revolution.
The plot: four beautiful vignettes show Cuba before Castro and signify the need for the Revolution. The first shows American-run casinos and prostitution in Havana, as well as poverty outside of the hotel zone. Second shows a farmer burning his sugar-cane fields and his hut/dwelling after he learned that his land was sold to United Fruit Company. Third shows some students organizing a resistance and government’s crackdown on Marxists, free-thinkers and descenders. The last part shows how government’s bombing of rebels in the mountains induces peasants to join Castro’s revolutionary forces.
The good: this movie is all poetry – from camera work and choice of lenses and angles, to beautiful music, expressive acting and ballet-like choreographed plasticism and gorgeous locations. Perhaps it may be explained, since the screenplay writer is Yevgeni Yevtushenko, famous Soviet poet and writer. I loved the fact that Cuba had a female voice to talk for her. Cuba as a woman is a beautiful concept, because it tells so much about her character. That a film is black and white makes sense for two reasons – Soviet studios seldom had enough money to buy color film – especially on expensive international projects, but it also amplifies life contrasts between rich and poor in the movie.
The movie shows Cuban culture and society. It’s depicted as an American colony, exploited by American corporations with corrupt government at the service of the big neighbor. Rich Americans have fun in hotels, vars and brothels, American marines stationed in Guantanamo Bay are harassing the population.
The second half of the movie is descent growing into the revolutionary movement.
There are several sequences that reminded me of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 classic Battleship Potemkin that influenced the cinema all over the world – yes, the staircase scene, as well as Kalatozov’s earlier movie, “The cranes are flying!”.
The bad: Not only it’s made in the 60s after Castro’s revolution and on Soviet money, it is certainly not without propaganda and agenda. But it’s by no means a movie for the sake of propaganda – it’s a movie showing desire of people for justice, freedom, independence and self-determination. It’s too slow – almost as much as Andrei Tarkovski’s movies were.
I am Cuba. You are shooting not to kill. You are shooting your past. You are shooting to protect your future.
The summary: Although a child of its time, this movie is amazing. It’s a piece of art that should be studied in art schools and film institutes. Great performances and great music non-stop. Cinematography and direction are just pure poetry. It’s a reminder of how things were during Batista’s regime.
The crew: Direcor – Mikhail Kalatozov | Writers – Enrique Pineda Barnet, Yevgeni Yevtushenko | Original Music – Carlos Fariñas | Cinematography – Sergei Urusevsky | Costume Design – René Portocarrero
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