I Am Cuba

"Excellent"

I Am Cuba Review


At this writing (Novenber 2007), a just-released undercover poll of Cuban citizens reflects their unhappiness with the Castro regime and government leadership. That's the Cuba of today. I Am Cuba is the Cuba of yesterday, a slowly building rage of cinematic propaganda, created to showcase the island nation's beauty -- and the supposedly just causes for the anti-Batista revolution.

I Am Cuba is a fantastic film curiosity. Released in 1964 (shown in the States in '95), the film is a co-production of the Soviet and Cuban governments, with the call for Communist uprising as the ultimate message. Unique as that is, I Am Cuba has also become the gold standard for remarkable cinematography, with structure, movement and creativity that rivals the visual work seen in Citizen Kane.

The movie begins as a forlorn love letter. A woman's voice quietly proclaims "I Am Cuba," while an in-boat camera smoothly captures water travel past people's humble huts. The voiceover then laments Columbus having taken Cuba's valuable sugar cane, producing both sweet juice and bitter tears. Poetic, both narratively and visually.

Then comes one of the most famous camera moves in history, as we're introduced to Cuba at a downtown roof party. The camera descends from the rooftop, gracefully winds its way through a crowd, enters the nearby swimming pool and gently goes underwater where happy swimmers remain in focus. All in one long, uncut shot.

It's a wonder of technical expertise and patience, but there's more to the shot than that: It creates a distinct style for the viewer, capturing surroundings as well as any two-dimensional film ever has. The lens selection allows for a wide scope without feeling fish-eye and the black-and-white detail is intoxicating. The rest of the film is no less impressive, most scenes covered in single, long-take shots with what appears to be impossible choreography.

While the images take over, the initial story is a little less than captivating. It's pre-Castro time, which means ugly Americans buying women, destitute farmers and neighborhoods, vicious landowners capitalizing on others' crops... who wouldn't want to revolt? The narrative becomes satisfyingly tense as the political tide begins to turn, and a group of university students plot their actions against Batista's government.

From riots in the streets to bombings in the hinterlands, I Am Cuba becomes large-scale, epic stuff, all produced with incredible technical aplomb. One can imagine the project as a chest-thumping source of pride for the Soviet government, full of inciting imagery, enormous filmmaking prowess and the flavor of revolution. Its politics might not reflect today's Cuba. But its style could certainly affect today's filmmaking.

The "Ultimate Collection" DVD set is a celebration for film fans. Presented by Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese, it includes a newly mastered version of the film, your choice of Spanish or Russian soundtracks, two behind-the-scenes documentaries, as well as interviews with Scorsese and the film's screenwriter... all packaged in a well-designed cigar box.

Aka Soy Cuba.



I Am Cuba

Facts and Figures

Run time: 141 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st December 1995

Production compaines: Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industrias Cinematográficos (ICAIC), Mosfilm

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 32

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Mikhail Kalatozov

Starring: Sergio Corrieri as Alberto

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