An epic celebration of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, I AM CUBA is much more than a Cold War-era curiosity. This 1964 Soviet-Cuban co-production, unearthed and released in the US in 1995, is an audaciously stylish movie that dazzles viewers with one spectacularly inventive shot after another. The film unfolds in four parts, each a didactic...read more
An epic celebration of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, I AM CUBA is much more than a Cold War-era curiosity. This 1964 Soviet-Cuban co-production, unearthed and released in the US in 1995, is an audaciously stylish movie that dazzles viewers with one spectacularly
inventive shot after another.
The film unfolds in four parts, each a didactic tale about the pre-revolutionary era. The first is set in decadent Havana, where by day women parade poolside in bikinis and high-heeled mules for men in dark glasses. By night, everyone has a daiquiri in one hand and a cigar in the other. It is into
this world that a poor sweet Havana girl sinks, becoming a prostitute servicing American tourists. In the second story, an old sugar farmer is about to be evicted from his land by the United Fruit Company. He sends his two children to town to spend his last peso, swilling Coca Cola and playing the
jukebox, while he sets fire to his house and his cane fields and collapses in despair.
The third section opens with the pronouncement: "Who is responsible for this? Batista." University students demonstrate and plot against the government. Caught red-handed with a copy of Lenin: The State And Revolution, they become martyrs to the revolutionary cause. In the final segment, a simple
peasant--who only wants to live in peace--is driven from his home by aerial bombings, delivered by Batista's air force. He sees the light about the need to take up arms and heads to a rebel camp in the Sierra Maestra, where Castro's bearded troops welcome him as a comrade. The film's magnificent
images are accompanied by a spare poetic narration.
Filming began on Mikhail Kalatozov's I AM CUBA one month after the Cuban Missile Crisis and five years after Fidel Castro had come to power. To the Soviets, Castro's regime then seemed to be a model for the revolutionary transformation of post-colonial states. Influenced by Sergei Eisenstein,
Kalatozov created his own POTEMKIN for the people of Cuba. Just as POTEMKIN had celebrated the Russian people's liberation from the Czar, I AM CUBA would glorify that country's liberation from Batista and his greedy, US-backed dictatorship. Kalatozov teamed with his long-time cinematographer
Sergei Urusevsky, Cuban novelist Enrique Pineda Barnet, and Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko to produce 141-minute epic. (Yevtushenko had worked as a correspondent in Cuba for Pravda and was at that time a friend of Castro.)
I AM CUBA was not shown outside Cuba and the Soviet Union until the 1992 Telluride Film Festival, where it was screened--without English titles--as part of a special tribute to Mikhail Kalatozov. Kalatozov is best known for THE CRANES ARE FLYING, which won the Golden Palm at the 1958 Cannes Film
Festival. Critical reaction to I AM CUBA was strong, and Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Milestone Film teamed together to subtitle the film in English and release it in the US. The film is immensely entertaining and occasionally inspiring, a delirious combination of Slavic solemnity,
Latin exoticism, Communist idealism and breathtakingly beautiful images. It is best enjoyed on the big screen.
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