January 12—January 12, 2020

Jeffrey’s Cinema #6

SOY CUBA     1964
(I am Cuba)
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov
141 minutes
In Spanish with English subtitles

Don’t avert your eyes. Look! I am Cuba. For you, I am the casino, the bar, hotels and brothels. But the hands of these children and old people are also me!
– Yevgeni Yevtushenko

This unique collaboration between Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes are Flying), and the poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko dramatizes the conditions that led to the 1959 Cuban revolution. Originally made in 1964, it was re-released in 1995 through the combined efforts of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. It contains some of the most incredible camerawork and images in the history of cinema.

I Am Cuba is set in the late 1950s when a bunch of students, workers, and peasants organized to overthrow the corrupt regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. The film is divided into four sequences. The first depicts the American gambling casinos and brothels in Havana. The next part shows a farmer burning his sugar cane when he learns he is going to lose his land to the American United Fruit company. Another part describes the suppression of students and dissenters at Havana University, and the final sequence shows how government bombing of mountain fields induced farmers to join with the rebels in the mountains. The final scene is a march into Havana to proclaim the revolution. This film has become a classic in film history, and what makes it so great is that it is not only revolutionary in its theme, but also in its wonderful incandescent style.

Photographed in black and white and using acrobatic camerawork, some of the shots and distorted camera angles are so staggering as to be virtually unbelievable. In one sequence, the camera lifts off from a hotel rooftop, takes in the Havana skyline, descends several floors, winds its way through the poolside party-goers, and then takes you for a swim in the pool in one continuous shot. (Paul Thomas Anderson loved this shot so much he made a tribute to it in Boogie Nights). Audacious and imaginative, I Am Cuba is a revelation. Filmed with true visionary poetry, I Am Cuba transcends the genre of political filmmaking to reach a pinnacle of cinematic art… pure exhilarated cinema in its highest form.