Soy Cuba (1964) Poster


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Why does everyone focus on the technicalities?!!?
NIKITIN-111 June 2006
Just about every comment posted here eulogises Soy Cuba's camera-work, which is certainly understandable as it is remarkably filmed, but this is done to the neglect of other extremely important aspects. Whether they are bigger fans of the camera-work or of the direction, however, all the commentators on these pages seem to share the caveat that arguably the main point of the film - its plot - amounts to nothing more than "silly propaganda" or a curiosity of totalitarian film making. Such an attitude is a terrible oversight! Soy Cuba is about people's desire for freedom and a better life, and the revolutionary potential of this desire when conditions reach a point beyond which people will no longer endure. It is about self respect, and courage, will and humanity and a human, filial patriotism; it is about the distillation of Cuba as an idea and a cause for justice and empowerment. I cannot understand how deeply postmodern and jaded, or just plain superficial, someone has to be to notice all the nuances of angle and light and completely miss the deep emotional and spiriual poetry of the content (in fact, the US government certainly paid good attention, for it banned the film until 1992)! It is like discussing Korda's portrait of Che Guevara in terms of focus and aperture alone!Did they not feel goosebumps as they watched the scene of the students on the steps, and the dead dove? I am lost for words! Indeed, if it were just a vapid propaganda piece, what explains its de facto censorship in the Soviet Union? I am quite sure that many of these commentators must have visited the Caribbean on holiday at one time or another; I know from my own experiences, and they ought to have immediately realised on seeing the film, that the portrait the it paints of Cuba remains the reality of Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Haiti today, some 65 years later. Watching this film, we should above all feel indignant, rather than heaping praise onto disembodied and decontextualised technicalities such as camera-work. To dismiss it as propaganda yet ogle at its images is akin to prostituting this beautiful, very deeply moving, and inspiring film, the same way that Cuba herself was prostituted. Shame on you.
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A pinnacle of cinematic art
howard.schumann18 November 2002
"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

I Am Cuba is described by film critic Elliot Wilhelm as "a unique, insane, exhilarating spectacle". Filmed in Spanish, dubbed in Russian, and subtitled in English, this unique collaboration between Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes are Flying), the poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, and writer Enrique Pineda Barnet dramatizes the conditions that led to the 1959 Cuban revolution. Originally made in 1964 (and unpopular both in Russia and Cuba), it was released in 1995 through the combined efforts of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

I Am Cuba is set in the late 1950s when a ragtag 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-run gambling casinos and prostitution in Havana. The next shows a farmer burning his sugar cane when he learns he is going to lose his land to United Fruit. Another 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 Sierra Maestre mountains. The final scene is a triumphal march into Havana to proclaim the revolution.

Marvelously photographed in black and white by Sergei Urusevsky and using acrobatic camerawork by Alexandr Kalzaty, 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. Reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein, the caricatures are broad but are presented with such exuberance that it hardly seems to matter. Audacious and imaginative, I Am Cuba is a revelation, not only for its style but also for its inspiration. Filmed with true visionary poetry, I Am Cuba transcends the genre of advocacy filmmaking to reach a pinnacle of cinematic art.
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Neglected Propaganda Masterpiece of Great Visual Beauty
FilmFlaneur30 November 2000
I am Cuba/Soy Cuba features the stories of several Cuban citizen-types: a young prostitute, a farmer, a young revolutionary and so on, up to the start of the island's Castro Revolution.

If this sounds dull, then rest assured that the plot is minimal and, despite it's avowedly political purpose, hardly gets in the way of the film's main attractions today. What distinguishes the production is the cinematography. It is not an exaggeration to say that the images and technique in the film are breathtaking, and it is a tour-de-force of bravura camera work. Apparently Martin Scorcese has screened this film privately to work out how such-and-such a shot was achieved, and perhaps it's influence can be found in the famous through-the-kitchens tracking shot in 'Goodfellas'.

This is a film where the camera is constantly in motion, with sweeping balletic long takes, crane and hand held shots, tracking shots, including some over and down the side of buildings, through cane fields, into swimming pools, around packed night clubs, even hovering and moving along high over a street in the middle of a packed funeral procession - all without the usual cutting. I estimate the average length of a take in this film at about 2 - 3 minutes, a figure rare and astonishing these days, even with the benefit of steadicams - but jaw dropping given the still-unwieldy equipment they were surely using in 1964. In particular one or two large scale sequences must have taken days, if not weeks, to prepare, and presumably needed government marshaling to choreograph. (Ironically, whether or not the film makers intended it, the liberated camera work on display here reflects the notion of revolutionary freedom far more than the actual story vignettes.)

The film itself is shot in high contrast gleaming black and white, favouring wide angle lenses, and with a constant deep focus that reminded me of Greg Toland's work for Welles or some of James Wong Howes' work. Kalatozov's use of a handful of character 'types' throughout recalls Eisenstein's (and in fact there is a faint reference to his the Odessa Steps sequence in 'Battleship Potemkin' at one point when the revolutionary rioters march down some steps), but the effect here is far more sensual and lyrical. (Among the professional actors, Sergio Corrieri also appears in the better-known Memories of Underdevelopment). The film's 'artiness' is undeniably a distraction from the message of struggle, and to the original viewers the beautiful images must have been a long way from reality in the New Cuba.

Today we don't have this problem and the viewer is left with a visual feast to enjoy over and over again..
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GyatsoLa8 April 2007
It goes without saying that this movie includes some of the most breathtaking camera-work ever seen. Many scenes will live long in the memory of anyone who's been fortunate enough to see it. But it seems to be downgraded in many peoples minds by the notion of it being a propaganda movie.

I think its misleading to think of the movie as being 'propaganda' any more than most mainstream movies can be seen as propaganda for a particular way of life or viewpoint. The portrayal of the American characters in I Am Cuba is in many ways more fair-minded than numerous Hollywood or British movies (in the case of James Bond) in the portrayal of Communists or any other perceived enemy. Even anti war movies such as Platoon or Saving Private Ryan frequently portray the 'enemy' as faceless figures who are killed without a thought.

I prefer to see this movie as a love letter to Cuba by some brilliant (but undoubtedly naive) Soviet film makers. The storyline is much more sophisticated and innovative than has been given credit. Many of the characters are stereotypes, but they are still sympathetic and real. The movie is by no means perfect, but to dismiss it as beautiful propaganda is i think to underestimate the skill and thoughtfulness of the team who made it. By overemphasizing the origin of the movie has I think killed the enjoyment of it for many viewers. Just go see it and enjoy the sumptuous imagery. If you want to dismiss it as propaganda, fine, but if it to be seen as propaganda, then so is most of Hollywoods output.
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Film School
Eight Two27 January 2001
No less than thirty shots have been ripped off from this movie in the past five years, in films like Out of Sight, Boogie Nights, and Pulp Fiction. Watching "I Am Cuba" is an education in film technique and the beauty of the eponymous country. The picture's plot is abysmal. It is an exercise in cinematography. It is among the most influential movies, style-wise, that the American public has never seen and honestly brilliant on all terms.

Imagine taking a tour of Cuba, in 1964, through the eyes of four metaphors: luxury, poverty, revolution, and vagrancy. Times are changing, the country is changing. However, no matter how much anything changes, the sun-soaked gorgeousness of the land doesn't budge. The camera glides around like a member of the tour who has gone off on his own, looking at the four principles.

I Am Cuba is film that needs no hyperbole. It Is Great
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Simply the most visually stunning film I've ever seen.
tom_decuir13 March 2002
Every frame of this film deserves to be printed, framed and hung in a gallery. And the sound, wow. The sound... Crunchy super-intimate sounds- like the sound of machetes ringing in the cane field- are as evocative as the images.

1964. It's amazing how much can be done with so little...
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Yes, it is the Best Cinematography
darienwerfhorst12 January 2006
That I've ever seen, and I watch a lot of movies. The story is propaganda, to be sure, and some of the acting is horrible, but WOW! I couldn't take my eyes off of it. Shot after stunning shot....I don't know how they did it, but I didn't mind all the rhetoric because I kept thinking, "Look, that's so beautiful" and "Wow, how did they do that?" I do recommend it also as a historical document of a time most people don't remember....I was born the year it was made and remember "the Communist Threat" but I think a lot of people younger than myself may not remember.

Not to mention that yes, some of the music was also amazing. A must see for any serious film buff.
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Sculpted Spatial Force
tedg28 December 2007
Is this the best film ever made? For me today in its afterglow it is.

I'm so fickle. I think if all else were equal, I'll always take embodied, real cinema that is coherently integrated. The way of telling the story is ideally complex and folded, using tricks to make the story matter. But if the storytelling is less spectacular, as long as the thing engages, that's what matters. If it changes me, its art and important, regardless of whether I can tell a good story about the storytelling.

That's the way I prefer. But sometimes the storytelling is so spectacular, so engaging in itself, that it doesn't matter what the story is. These are rare, because after all, you need the touch to change your life. So a filmmaker as unsophisticated and unattractive as, say Elia Kazan, can modify my existence when partnered with Williams and Brando.

And this story... what is conveyed here is mostly lies. Or rather it is a target story that is transparently bankrupt. Its based on an embodied reality of sorts. But its a twisted vision. The racism is palpable. The superiority of the European eye and mind are overwhelming. The simple notion of good and evil is less nuanced than in Star Wars or its predecendent westerns, and is intolerable. (This may be simply because history advises that both the Soviet and Cuban experiments were more brutal than what they replaced.)

But what cinema! What life! Just inhabiting this world has adjusted my imagination and dreams. The focus is usually on the extraordinary flying camera, because its so obvious, striking. It is, and if it were just that, I would still get you out of bed and across town to see this. But the flying eye is integrated with an architectural expression that is far deeper. The actors and camera move through buildings, fire, smoke, cane, trees, exploding dirt. This is as amazing the first time, just in wondering how they did it. Knowing the technology used, it seems impossible, and that knowledge actually distracts. You have to see this several times to just get past the wonder at the talking dog.

Then you can get into the visual poetry of thing. It isn't about people at all. They matter not at all except as fodder for ennobling posters. What matters is the structure of the forces that surround and channel them here and there like turbulent banks. This is a project centered on those forces, incarnated as spatial forces. Where in another project you wonder how a dog can be so dramatic, here you wonder how the director was able to control fire and smoke to be so perfectly compliant. Its not embodied in the story, which is daft, but in the real world that contains it.

This is absolutely in the spirit of Tarkovsky, and is the only film I know that betters him visually. Its less human, but oh so spatial. You must, must see it.

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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-887 March 2000
This is my favorite piece of propoganda filmmaking -- and I'm remembering Reifenstahl when I write that -- but I think it's better than that kind of genre comparison implies. The film takes a Marxist look at the state of Cuba in 1964; it's episodic, and while the ideas expressed are nothing new, the film presents them so cinematically and with such overt fervor that it transcends its numbskull earnestness. There's nothing naive about it: this isn't the work of a starry-eyed naif, but rather a calculated piece of agitprop in which the Americans chew gum loudly and run their hands up the skirts of the innocent Cuban girls, and the blame for Cuba's woes is laid squarely on Batista's shoulders. But it believes itself, and the film, when it connects, is as powerful as anything you've ever seen. 10/10
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This is a beautiful black & white film from 1964 telling 4 different short stories in pre-Castro Cuba.
LoopySue25 May 2006
I had no idea what this film was about or when it was shot when I watched it. About an hour & a half into it I realized that I was mesmerized. I was weary from not blinking while I watched silently and then realized that I'd not moved from the moment of that first long shot from the party atop the hotel, which wound through the crowd into a pool below.

Somewhere during the cabal in the night-club where we watched a young woman dancing disconcertingly and harnessed, I became riveted. Then as we watched her being followed home through a ghetto by a man from the club I felt like a voyeur, which worked through the end of that story and melded seamlessly into the next.

It is a story starting at night as a young woman is approached and intimidated by a bunch of US Sailors and another clean cut Cuban student comes to her aid. Still I was feeling like I was just inside a window somewhere watching these people who might turn and look up to spot me at any moment. So I remained still and quiet through almost the entire film, and continued following the student and watching his attempts at assassination and his friends' deaths because they "doth protest too much".

Then I'm standing just behind a farmer melancholy in his doorway remembering... thinking as his grown children sleep just nearby. They all wake to work the land with their father. The images are starkly bright whites sliced by black shards of shadows and shapes that make up the surrounding overgrown land, buildings, people and that lone horse. I realize my stillness when my hypnosis is broken by the landowner riding up to tell the crushed old man that the land has been sold. He feigns being OK by sending his kids off to town to enjoy some sodas and music, for all their hard work. Then he burns their home to the ground.

I think it is here that I take my first breath in 90 minutes -I exhale. Then the next think you know, I'm hiding and watching again, this time in the mountains and a guerrilla, who at first seems lost, lands on the doorstep of a small rural family with at least one child running around bare bottom. Everyone here looks weary and dirty, the soldier also, who is invited in to eat. As he eats the wife crushes corn in the background like the rhythm of a snare to the smoky voice of a jazz singer as the soldier speaks of revolution. The father strangely can't take this kind of aggressive thinking and has the guerrilla to leave. Just as I try to inhale, a bomb hits just next to the little raggedy house in the hills and the family makes a hasty retreat, but father and son get separated from mother and children. It's dangerous and sad, serious and almost silent. The little naked boy who retreated with his agonizing father gets killed. Father is reunited with his family under a cave-side waterfall. Pain, loss, grief, anger - he goes to join the revolutionaries in a final act of leaving his little family behind.

Now I've watched the entire film and I'm still not sure how I feel about it all, but I'm breathing again, and I continue to live with the images.

That is a good film experience.
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dogmatic, but true
lee_eisenberg23 May 2005
In talking about Cuba, people often forget about how things were under Fulgencio Batista. The Cuban-Soviet co-production "I Am Cuba" shows how things were. Throughout four vignettes, we see a Havana prostitute struggling to make ends meet, a humble farmer whose livelihood is destroyed by landowners, students fighting against the repressive police, and finally, people joining up with the revolutionary army.

The whole thing is really socialist realism: the heroic peasants rising up against the oppressive bourgeoisie and getting martyred. But, we have to admit that what "I Am Cuba" portrays is accurate. I don't know for sure whether or not things got much better after the revolution, but most Cubans certainly prefer things as they are today over how things were under Batista. Either way, the movie can also be interpreted through its camera work, showing Cuba's landscape and employing some interesting dollies.

Yes, it's propaganda, but as far as I know, conditions have improved in Cuba ever since they abolished the ladyfinger system and prosecuted Batista's thugs. This movie reminds of things in the same way that "Schindler's List" does.
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Four beautiful stories and breathtaking cinematography.
reinbo21 April 2007
The four segments that give us an impression of Cuba around 1960 are all very fine. I' wouldn't call this any more propagandistic than any Michael Bay Movie, far less even. It really captures the soul of Cuba that was exploited by the USA at the time and took matters back in their own hand.

I've been to Cuba last year and if the USA didn't boycott the country the Latin communism could work. But back to the movie. The cinematography is as it has been said so many times one of the best efforts ever, but it is not the only quality because the four stories are very nice and have influenced Hollywood filmmakers more than any American will like to admit.
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Ultimate in Choreography
timskousen5 April 2002
One of the advantages of making a propaganda film in communist countries is that you have full support of the government that you are favoring. With that in mind, it's no wonder that a film of this magnitude could be made only in a communist country (before it went bankrupt). Soy Cuba surprises the viewer over and over again as you expect the camera to cut, and just as you expect it to, it doesn't and whoosh, you're underwater, or you've just flown out a window and hover above a funeral procession of massive proportions. I ponder the planning it must have taken to concoct such long takes with each moment so thoughtfully planned out. As much as most people will credit this film with fabulous cinematography (which it arguably has), it is a direct result of the complex direction by Mikheil Kalatozishvili that gives the film its flow and strength. Long takes become boring if the rhythm of the film is not well choreographed (some Tarkovsky films have this problem, but not all). Soy Cuba is never boring. Of course, what is most interesting is to see Havana in all it's beauty just after Fidel's revolution and then to contrast that with the Cuba seen in Buena Vista Social Club. It says it all about the politics of this film. This one is purely worth watching for the choreography and cinematography, not for the silly ideology. This is required viewing for all filmmakers.
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Cranes are not flying over Cuba
Galina_movie_fan24 June 2009
For the movie made over 40 years ago, Soy Cuba/I Am Cuba/Ya Kuba, is an innovative and very beautiful. I won't be original to mention at least two long scenes in the film that are absolutely brilliant and can be enjoyed on their own over and over again. Besides, these scenes don't have triple narration, just the music that makes them even more impressive. Speaking of the languages presentation, the DVD leaves a lot to be desired. The film is presented with English subtitles, spoken English and Spanish, and Russian voice over which is very annoying. Even though Russian is my native tongue, I looked for the option to turn off the narration but unsuccessfully. With all these voices and subtitles that won't go, you are distracted from the visual beauty of the film which is its best value. I suggest, you go on YouTube, find the rooftop scene and the funeral procession, and watch them in awe, be amazed and fascinated. That's basically all I have to say about Soy Cuba, the propaganda film that was made in 1964 during the victorious days of Fidel Castro Revolution and high hopes for new happy life for the hard working citizens of the Caribbean Paradise Island. Ironically, the film "I Am Cuba", as anti-American propaganda as they ever come, made as a Cuban-Soviet co-production, was not widely released in either pro-Communist country and was almost forgotten until it was restored and presented in the USA in the middle of the 90s by two celebrated American Film Directors, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola.

Of course, I am impressed by its brilliant cinematography, and who would not? I am not going to describe the beautiful insanity of Sergey Urusevskij's camera in the opening scene of the film or its free soar in the funeral procession later into the picture. It's been done hundreds of times already. If you need an explanation on how these impossible camera movements were achieved, go to Soy Cuba Wikipedia page - they have a thorough and detailed description of the shooting process and how it was done. But let me tell you something. If you really want to see a great Soviet film made by the same Director-Cinematographer team, the wonderful, engaging, fascinating, ahead of its time yet truthfully depicting the tragic events of the history FILM, with the shots that are included in the text books, with the poignant touching story, with the real characters that you never forget, watch Mikhail Kalatozov's B/W film "Cranes are flying" which he and his genius cinematographer Sergei Urusevskij made in 1957. Cranes Are Flying has never become outdated and never will. It will stay unforgettable and compelling as well as cinematographically perfect as long as the Art of Cinema lives. Cranes are Flying is timeless. Soy Cuba is a product of certain time period and its politics. It is not even the problem that the film is a shameless propaganda. The propaganda can be powerful and artistic. Watch for example ten minutes long animated film of Jan Svankmajer "The End of Stalinism in Bohemia". One of the reviewers on this site is asking "How did they dare to make such a film in 1963?" I guess the answer is that by 1963 the short period in the history of the USSR which is known as "thaw" or "ottepel'" that began after Stalin's death in 1953, was over. The 60s represented the return to the Stalinism aesthetics even if officially it had never been admitted. It would take another quarter of the century until the truth about some events and politics was finally told during the "perestroika" in the late 1980s and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. IMO, Soy Cuba is overall a weak film with very creative virtuoso cinematography. I suppose that the Film Students will learn a lot from its technical values but it is a film with the parts much better than the whole thing.
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Communist poem features sensational camerawork
pooch-810 March 1999
Mikhail Kalatozov's 1964 I Am Cuba spectacularly showcases its fervent political ideology through a series of fascinating vignettes set all around the nation. Made shortly following the collapse of the Batista regime, the picture takes up a fervently pro-Castro stance, painting the leader as a heroic defender of the poor, exploited people who struggle to make a living on the "weeping" island. Most of the film's episodes are dazzling, and I particularly enjoyed the tale of Maria/Betty (played by the gorgeous Luz Maria Collazo), a young girl who turns to prostitution to survive. Another excellent story belongs to Pedro (Jose Gallardo), an older farmer who burns his entire sugar cane crop and his home when he learns it has been sold by the landowner from whom he rents. The second half of the film delves more deeply into the lives of some revolutionaries, especially Enrique (Raul Garcia), a student who contemplates an assassination attempt on a corrupt police officer. One cannot watch I Am Cuba without noticing the stunning camerawork, which often seems free of the bounds of gravity, floating and gliding with a delicate ease through the lush scenery.
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Beautifully shot with excedingly disorienting camera work
patrickmoreton12 September 2020
The movie is clearly a Soviet-era propoganda piece, with very unflattering portrayals of American visitors to Cuba and the Batista government of pre-revolution Cuba, but the cinenamtic work of the director, cinematographer, and cast are first rate. Although the Americans and anti-Castro characters aren't drawn with any great subtly, several of the film's Cuban characters are, making the movie quite watchable. I particularly liked the third vignette, which features a group of student activists and their complex feelings about the revolution. The diegetic use of Cuban music throughout gives you an incredible feeling of being in late 50s Cuba. Long, but well worth the watch.
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If you liked this film, then check out...
JSL263 March 2007
This is a great film on many levels--and I can see why the Soviets put it in a drawer since the scenes of pre-revolutionary Havana were so vibrant.

If you enjoyed the film as much as I did, look for a 2005 Brazilian documentary interviewing many of the participants the film living in Cuba who did not know that the film is now recognized as a classic. The documentary is called "I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth," and it aired on the Sundance channel.

Also look for Kalatozov's earlier film, The Unmailed Letter, which features equally stunning cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky.
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Simply the greatest achievement in cinematography, period.
bw9211620 November 2007
Just go get it and watch it, without delay. That's all I can say. Any serious video store should carry this, and if they don't, ask them to order it. Netflix does carry it. This is the peak of the art of cinematography. Nothing before or since compares to it, even with all the high-tech computerized wizardry available today. A landmark, and essential viewing for anyone interested in the visual art of cinema. The stories are interesting and I did not find it preachy or propagandistic at all. They are demonstrating what life in Cuba was like under Batista, and why the Communist revolution was necessary and appropriate there. But that's not really why this film is still remembered, it is remembered for its lyrical beauty and amazing technique.
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Imaginatively Photgraphed Cinematic Lie
PoliticallyIncorrectone13 November 2019
The real story of Pre Castro Cuba is not presented here. Of course, since the movie was made with the blessings of the Soviet Union how could it be? Pre Castro Cuba was far more complex than the Cuba seen here. The PBS series "The American Experience describes Pre Castro Cuba: "Cuba ranked fifth in the hemisphere in per capita income, third in life expectancy, second in per capita ownership of automobiles and telephones, first in the number of television sets per inhabitant. The literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. Many private clinics and hospitals provided services for the poor. Cuba's income distribution compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies. A thriving middle class held the promise of prosperity and social mobility." Was there inequality and corruption in Cuba? Yes. As there is in every major city in the world. Were there American businessmen who sought the services of prostitutes in Havana? Yes. Just as there are businessmen from all countries doing the same in every major city in the world. Was President Fulgencio Batista a bloody dictator? Probably. On the other hand, Batista had been freely elected in 1940 with the help (ironically) of the Cuban Communist Party. He served until 1944 and then moved to the US for a while. He returned to Cuba in 1952 to run for President again, saw he had no chance of being elected, then decided to take control of Cuba in a coup. A young lawyer by the name of Fidel Castro organized a rebellion against Batista which was crushed and Castro was arrested. Batista then let Castro go free two years later. Batista was corrupt, stole millions from Cuba with which he bought homes in the USA. Batista was also getting money from organized crime in exchange for freedom to build an run casinos in Havana. If Batista was a horrible as his regime was portrayed in this movie, why didn't he execute Castro, as Castro himself executed those (including American citizens) accused of plotting against him? If the Castro regime was so wonderful, why haven't there been free elections and freedom of the media since he took power? With all it's problems, Pre Castro Cuba was probably one of the top countries in this hemisphere after the USA, Canada and maybe Argentina. In fact, if you were black, you'd have been far better off in 1958 Cuba than in most states of 1958 USA! I was born in Cuba. My father was American, my mother Cuban. We knew other Americans who married Cuban women and would probably have lived the rest of their lives in Cuba (as we would have) had Castro not taken over. The Americans we knew were very different from the American scum portrayed in this movie. My family was part of the Cuban middle class, renting the first floor of a two family home with the Cuban landlord living upstairs, in a neighborhood of similar two family homes in Marianao, a suburb of Havana. This movie is beautifully photographed, directed and well acted and should be seen for this reason. Don't take the movie as the true story of Pre Castro Cuba, because it's not only one sided, it doesn't even present the entire truth of that one side. It's as if a documentary of 1958 USA was filmed with 1958 Alabama or Louisiana representing the entire USA.
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Breathtaking cinematography undermined by political propaganda
migcoyula2 October 2004
Let me start saying that I'm against any kind of political propaganda, no matter which side. This was such a wasted opportunity. It could have been one of the best films of all times. Unfortunately is mostly going to be remembered for it's visual achievement.

The story is simplistic and declamatory, right in your face, up the point of caricature.

That said, the film has amazing moments. Havana has never being filmed like that again. The camera movements have inspired Scorcese (Goodfellas) and Paul T Anderson (Boogie Nights) Still they don't surpass this, which was done 40 years ago.

This is what cinema should be in the formal side. When are we going to get more films that look like this?
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Uniquely breathtaking (with only few others to come close)
Bogey Man7 January 2004
This Soviet Union / Cuban co-production Soy Cuba (I am Cuba, 1964) is not among the most incredible, literally and completely objectively, pieces ever made for its message, universal theme or other mental content to be expressed, but for its camera usage and images. They are unlikely ever to be surpassed and even if they were, this was most likely the first that took the tool this far to the outer limits of human abilities! Director Mikheil Kalatozishvili tells four different stories inside the almost exploding Cuba, calm Mother that cries tears for what people have done to her, that are practically not related even though they all show the politics and victims of the situation that led to violent revolution in 1959. But as mentioned, the ending of the film or political opinions are definitely not too special or universal, so the film would be pretty lame without its visuality. Cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky is something that brings only few makers to mind. Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966) has genuinely some of the greatest black and white photography and crane shots in cinematic history, but maybe surprisingly even more Cuba brings Ukrainian born montage director Aleksandr Dovzhenko's Earth (Soviet Union, 1930) to my stunned mind, with the latter film's totally incredible imagery in the calm country side fields to which the technology and "civilization" is arriving. One story in Cuba is very "field oriented" and even though Dovzhenko's camera angles and takes are not very able to be compared with Cuba (in fact, they are often pretty far from each other), the atmosphere is very similar with the films. And needless to say, the montage imagery throughout the film but especially at the ending of Dovzhenko's film is incredible and unforgettable.

Another film that comes to my mind is Gillo Pontecorvo's La Battaglia di Algeri (Algeria, Italy, 1965) which is perhaps more vital in its message and varies from a very fast documentary style narration and feel of restlessness to more dramatic and calm moments with Ennio Morricone's music. This documentic and dramatic variation is often pretty similar with the two films and both films show the violent scenes very harrowingly in hald held camera and often with fast movements even though Pontecorvo's film has more of that kind of segments. And both have plenty of powerfully black and white smoke. It seems that these two films are so full of impact and timeless merits that all the things they have to deliver to the audience are almost impossible to take with just one viewing. The viewer is completely and literally breathless after both films either due to their speed and harrowing realism or poetic experimentations on camera possibilities never seen before.

The crane shots, the low angle compositions, the long takes without cuts, the Peter Greenaway like usage of images that give space to the background (usually sky, which in itself brings Nicholas Roeg and his 1971 film Walkabout to my mind) are the things that burst out with the impact that is not to be written or described, it has to be experienced and seen as it is cinema. French director Gaspar Noé's cinematic tools are as powerful as those of the mentioned directors' and especially his Irréversible (2002) consists completely of long takes without edits and with miraculous crane shots. If the Cuba director and Tarkovsky would have been mutated into one individual, that would have possibly been Gaspar Noé as the visuality and themes these makers have are as unique as the amount of honest and uncommercial talents working in cinema nowadays.

Soy Cuba is definitely among the few films that have my greatest praisings even though it offers no "serious theme or message" to deliver to the world, and the one it has to deliver to Cuba is the oldest mean mankind has lived together, always failing. The cinematic tools of the film are incredible and the two other directors mentioned here, having (had) the same potential have also delivered immortal and timeless themes and mental gifts to the world and mankind. Still that doesn't make the technical achievements of Cuba any less brilliant.
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So bad that it is good.
sevisan24 August 2007
This is a perfect example of displaced kitsch, a pachyderm monument of propaganda with Eisenstein-Welles look and Stalin aesthetics of the thirties. How did they dare to make such a film in 1963?. The Yankees chew gum, the prostitute repents and cries, the students throw cocktail Molotov, the old man sweats and burns his farm, the camera pans down the swimming-pool and over the roofs, the palms and clouds are shot in short focus against the light, the peasant's conscience awakes and he joins the guerrilla, and the chief of police is fat. Everything is so outdated, schematic and overblown that eventually becomes naive and moving. No wonder that Coppola and Scorsese rediscover this film and call it a masterwork.
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Tracking Cuba and creating the poetry of a nation
Quinoa19848 March 2009
The power of I Am Cuba as a piece of pure cinema is two-fold. The director, Mikhail Kalatozov, needed to make a film in the same urgency of the present tense with a country, to 'document' as it were the wave that Cuba was riding with its revolution. It was an exciting, dangerous, uncertain but promising time, and whichever side could agree that the country had changed forever. Like Eisenstein, one part of the impact is for Kalatozov to present fragments of the country of Cuba to the whole world, something that proclaims loudly, proudly what the country strived for an possibly won.

But there's another part, maybe a more crucial one than the given propagandistic side of it, to take the art of film-making to breathless invention and surprise and passion, breaking the boundaries of the early 1960s via Eclair cameras. Perhaps instinctively Kalatozov, Urusevsky and his screenwriter knew that there had to be something else to the picture to make it stand out from typical propaganda, of the same beat of the drum. It takes so much courage to take the simplicity of message or rhetoric and to film it as if the subjects are documentary but the form is complete fever dream and heightened hyper-reality.

I Am Cuba will remain a document of a time and place and aspirations of a people. But long after Castro dies or the Cuba of his uprising fades or changes to a different political denomination (if it hasn't already), it will be a great piece of film-making, one of the towering examples of taking the tools of the art- light, hand-held cameras, tracking shots, cranes, natural light and filters and the distinct lenses- and applying them like almost no other film like it at the time. The most wonderful thing to keep in mind about this filmmaker is that he's a poet and technical revolutionary first, communist sympathizer second.

Some may disagree with the message, and they're not without reasons. Though it's hard to disagree on how much Kalatozov and his crew get done with seemingly so limitless a budget. So many scenes and sequences stand out as triumphs of control of the mis-en-scene, masterpieces of preparation and blocking out the scene and creating unforgettable figures with the locals. The scene early on at the hotel with the camera moving around from person to person and dropping down and then tracking into the swimming pool is the most famous example. Lest not forget transcendent shots like the nightclub tracking of the singing or simple shots like the farmer working the sugar cane happily at first, the camera gliding through the field and the canes, and then the fury of the technique mirroring the farmer's breakdown following being told his farm and home are no longer his (the actor, or non-actor as it probably was, is incredible here).

Or the student, Enrique, who sees the hears a man singing a song as he enters a hotel to commit an assassination of a political figure, only to have the song come back into him, haunting his consciousness while he aims miles away. Another that could be analyzed in a master's film class, just one shot, is on the crowd in the street for the funeral of the boy, as the camera goes along on the roof then through the room of workers and finally gliding off the roof looking down on the crowd. Did I mention how awesome they use things like waves of smoke or camera tilting or just masses of bodies walking through muddy waters with rifles in hand? There's more and more I could go on about, but it might spoil some of the surprises in store.

Is it, perhaps, a God-like or other-worldly presence Kalatazov means to have on I Am Cuba? Surely the narrative voice transforms it/herself into the very nature of cinematic expression at most times, an alive point of view. Above the political and national reason for the film to exist, which is a strong one, is as a testament of physicality, of atmosphere of a city or farm or slum or hotel or mountain, of the joys and horrors and sorrow that are in all people. The film is about Cuba and its people and political upheaval, but it is also about human nature, survival, adaptation to circumstances, love. And all of these themes and ideas are important as the subject matter, and this might already make it a must-see. But for anyone, any student of film or person looking to the past for possibilities of movies in the future, it is required viewing.

It may have come to the United States and other parts of the world too late in an influential respect (think how rich the 1970s might have been if it had been released in 1964), but it's not too late to influence others, and it still does. Its significance with regard to film style is comparable to Citizen Kane - mesmerizing is the only word for it.
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A very good movie, all done in the service to one of humanity's great evil regimes.
davidmvining22 November 2019
What an absolutely fascinating film. Pure propaganda for the then newly victorious revolutionary government of Cuba, funded by the Soviet Union and created with both Cuban and Soviet creatives (directed by the Cannes Palme d'Or director Mikhail Kalatozov), and absolutely engrossing from a technical standpoint, the film doesn't quite reach as high from a narrative point of view.

Four separate vignettes that tie together thematically about the need to rise against the American proletariat, some are more successful than others. I think the best of the four is the second, where we see a tenant farmer told by his landlord that he has sold the land and the farmer must go. The farmer sends off his children to have a nice day in the village and proceeds to burn the crops and the small cabin they had called home. I think that the only major flaw in this small story is the fact that the farmer just suddenly keels over dead. It doesn't quite fit the particulars of the action (though a heart attack is not a difficult thing to imagine), and feels over-dramatic.

And that's really what hampers the narratives of the other three, a sense of over-dramatics that end up diving head first into melodrama. The first story is centered around a Cuban girl who prostitutes herself to American tourists. Having her sell her precious crucifix to her john after their night together is enough. Having her fiancé walk in to see the girl and the john dressing afterwards is too much. Then the john wanders through the slums as the poor beg him for any money and the voice of Cuba hypnotically hammers home the obvious message. The narrative of all four (least of all the second) gets hampered by the need to propagandize.

What's ironic to me is that the film was suppressed by Soviet authorities because they found it to be not propaganda enough for their tastes, but the propaganda seems to drip off of everything to me. Still, I don't love this movie because it makes me want to take up arms and join the glorious cause alongside Fidel and Che (it doesn't). No, I love this film because in addition to having four largely good stories (hampered, of course), it is a marvelous technical exercise.

There's an early shot that gets a lot of attention when people talk about this movie. The camera starts on the roof of a hotel, goes down the side of the building, wanders through a sitting area, and ends up filming swimming tourists under the water. I wasn't that blown away by the shot, but there's one later, in the third story, that did blow me away.

We've seen a group of students bravely rebel against the tyrannical Batista by printing leaflets, confronting the police, and defending Lenin. A shootout ensues and several of the students get murdered by the police. There's a funeral procession and the camera, in a magnificent shot, follows along the ground, goes up the side of a building, through a group of cigar rollers who stop what they're doing to unfurl a Cuban flag against the building, and the camera then passes over the crowd, in mid-air, and watches the coffin from above. There's one seam in the shot (we can see the wire the camera is traveling on as it passes over the crowd), but I'm still amazed at the achievement.

The camera movement doesn't completely capture the depth of the filmmaking ability there. The film is primarily made up of long shots that drift in an out of action. All done without Steadicam (which wasn't invented for about another 15 years), the camera rushes into conversations and ends up with perfect compositions. Like the American john in the foreground looking blankly at the prostitute while her fiancé stares at him over his shoulder, just out of focus. Or the shot of the prostitute and her fiancé walking along the street as he sells fruit early in the story and the camera suddenly tilts to see the two at the bottom right and the full form of the church in Havana that dominates the top left.

It's a very good movie, all done in the service to one of humanity's great evil regimes. Your mileage may vary.
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Style over substance?
pushnlacs22 July 2007
OK lets get it out of the way. This film has some amazing shots, thats a fact. The shot down the side of a building and into the pool, or through the building and out above the street, are the most memorable but it has a bunch of lesser shots that are still amazing.

That said after a while its all the same, the film is pretty much the same tracking shot repeated over and over. And in the end it seems that even though the film appeared to be taking on a serious subject the filmmaker was more concerned with his camera. Its constantly canted just to be so, quick pans all over the place are plentiful and characters make tons of unnecessary movements just to give the camera something fancy to do.

IMO the way the films put together a Italian Neo-Realist but made by a Russian about Cuba instead and with added propaganda.

without the camera work(which IMO gets old after a while) it wouldn't be half the film it is. But then again maybe it could have been more if all the focus wasn't on the visuals.

Oh and the dialogue as well as the dubbing can be horrible at times, and in most versions there's a Russian voice over you cant turn off.

Also the films depiction of Americans is a freaking insult.

But this is still a must see film for any true fans of cinema though, if just to witness some truly amazing shots.
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