Soy Cuba (1964)


(director: Mikheil Kalatozishvili; screenwriters: Yevgeni Yevtushenko/Enrique Pineda Barnet; cinematographer: Sergei Urusevsky; editor: Nina Glagoleva; music: Carlos Fariñas; cast: Raul Garcia (Enrique), Celia Rodriguez (Gloria), Sergio Corrieri (Alberto), José Gallardo (Pedro), Luz Maria Collazo (Maria Betty), Mario Gonzalez Broche (Pablo); Runtime: 141; MPAA Rating: NR; Criterion Collection; 1964-Cuba/Russia-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“The film fails to convince in its propaganda, but as a goofy view of a new Cuba it is heartily appreciated.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Russian director Mikheil Kalatozishvili (“Cranes Are Flying,” 1957) provides in “I Am Cuba” a Soviet-Cuban tribute to the victors of the revolution against the Batista regime, which turns out to be a ringing endorsement for the Cuban masses. Poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko and writer Enrique Pineda Barnet were recruited to write the script for a film made at the very height of the Cold War, at about the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s bizarrely kitsch, absurdly humorous and innovative in its artistic touches. It haltingly mixes a strange brew of Cold War paranoia and Afro-Cuban rhythms, making it like no other commie propaganda film ever made. Most of the cast were non-professionals, with peasants and students schematically portraying themselves alongside the professional actors. One can see the influence of Eisenstein in its swooping crane wide and low angled shots and its passions for the revolution, as its busy camera was in an action mode from the opening travelogue sky shot to its roving eye capturing in B/W photography the steamy and fun filled decadent western-styled nightclub life in contrast to the slums, factories, and farms in an impoverished Cuba on the brink of revolution. There are emotionally lyrical scenes of the mud road leading to the shack the Cuban prostitute is taking her foreign tourist john and the menacing dance and song number in the main street of Havana, as a group of U.S. sailors try to force an unwilling attactive young lady to come with them. It was done with so much panache, that it could have been a Gene Kelly routine that went over-the-edge into a Busby Berkeley routine.

The writers used a familiar quartet of stories they spiced up for effect to wax poetic about the commie system and denounce the horrors of the Batista regime, pronouncing the revolution as inevitable being that it was an uprising by the masses against a corrupt regime The four stories are about: An Havana prostitute being mistreated by her client; a farmer who is forcibly removed from his sugar cane fields by a greedy landowner; student revolutionaries who are fighting the police; and, of course, Castro’s guerrilla forces who are in the hills fighting for justice and freedom.

A sense of naturalism prevails along with its limited dialogue and staged riots and brothel scenes and a teeming city locale and a funeral procession imaginatively shot from above, as this film was made just after the revolution and the beaches and the city still looked prosperous–something that changed drastically when the failures of the new way of life became more obvious in the years to follow. Trying desperately in a heavy-handed way to link nature and a socialist industrial system as pristine examples of the wonders of Marxism–the film fails to convince in its propaganda, but as a goofy view of a new Cuba it is heartily appreciated. Aesthetically rather than politically successful, the film is unique and makes for a pleasing watch.