I Am Cuba
Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind. I was a little apprehensive when I discovered that it was a film about Cuba with a Russian director, Mikhail Kalatozov. I was not sure what slant the movie would take. However, I trust Bob’s taste in films, and considering that he has not lead me astray so far, I tried to go in with an open mind and I am glad I did.
Originally released in 1964, but largely ignored until the likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola sang its praises in the 90’s, I Am Cuba is a film that explores life in Cuba prior to the Castro-led revolution. Told through four distinct vignettes, and guided by a female voice-over representing the land itself, the film mixes the dreamy allure of Cuba with a stark realism of life under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. One story focus on Maria (Luz María Collazo), a woman from a shanty town who works as a dancer at a posh American friendly casino, whose morals are tested when a wealthy American offers her money for a one-night fling. The second story centres around a farmer, Pedro (José Gallardo), whose farm land has been sold to a major corporation. The third, and most compelling story, follows a pro-revolution student, Enrique (Raúl García), who is selected to assassinate a prominent figure. And the last story involves a farmer, Alberto (Sergio Corrieri), who ends up joining the rebel army after his house is bombed by the government in error.
What immediately strikes the viewer about I Am Cuba is how stunningly beautiful the film is. Even when documenting some of Cuba’s less than desirable moments, the film finds a way to make the land seem appealing. Kalatozov uses many smart camera techniques to give the film a grand scale feel despite its modest budget. Whether he is mimicking what feels like to fall from great height, pretending the camera is a pack of army dogs chasing after a rebel solider, or staging an elaborate bombing sequence where you never actually see the planes, Kalatozov’s film is really a treat to watch. There is a fantastic tracking shot where the camera follows a funeral procession from street level, then rises up four or five stories, goes through a window of a factory, and proceeds through the factory until it gets to the next window. The audience cannot help but ponder how such a shot was achieved back then.
The film is stunning to look at, but there is also a poetic charm to it as well. While many cinephiles tend to argue the poetic appeal of films such as Tree of Life, this film actually finds a way to incorporate poetry into the overall narrative without it being a distraction. Cuba’s voice-overs are especially effective as they really hit home the message that outsiders turn a blind eye to the oppression of the people. It also must be said that the music in the film plays just as an important role as the poetry. In many ways the music is an additional character prominently featured in each of the vignettes.
I Am Cuba does have a very strong pro-Castro slant, but that should not deter audiences from seeing the film. If anything it makes the film even more intriguing as it provides a point of view rarely seen on screen. Even if they do not agree with the politics, the four vignettes and the overall technical marvel of the film will be enough to keep audiences intrigued over multiple viewings.
I Am Cuba is part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by Bob