Jedan od najboljih filmova ikad, iako začudo nije općepoznat. Zapanjujući, čudesni kadrovi. Ejzenštajn pomnožen Wellesom. Inovativnost prihvatljiva svakome. To što je izvorno zamišljen kao propagandni film potpuno je zanemarivo. Tj. ako propaganda ima oblik sna, živjela propaganda! Zahvaljujući rasvjeti, prostornoj dubini, kretanju i kutovima kamere te ontološkoj melodramatičnosti, Ja sam Kuba nešto je poput video-spota iz snova. A tek žene u noćnom klubu - najmističnija i najzavodljivija otuđenost ikad snimljena.
"They were making Soy Cuba when I first went to Havana in 1963, and my hotel seemed full of Russians. Even today this Soviet-Cuban film that purports to be about Cuba's revolution is a wonderful evocation of everyone's first-time impressions of the island, with the royal palm trees in the countryside and the Havana skyline taking pride of place. It remains one of the great movies of the 1960s, though it rarely appears in dictionaries of film. Few people outside Cuba or the old Soviet Union have ever seen it, and it was not shown in the US until the 1990s. Those who have had the chance to see it recognise it at once as one of the masterpieces of world cinema, the outcome of the Soviet Union's first exposure to the world beyond its frontiers since Eisenstein's encounter with the Mexican revolution in the 1930s which produced his unfinished opus Viva Mexico.
The Soviet bear-hug that Cuba received in the early 1960s has rarely had a good press. According to several historical accounts, the Cuban revolution was effectively squeezed to death by its new imperial overlord, and the island was then doomed to disappear for several decades behind an iron curtain in the Caribbean. This version of events can be accepted or rejected at will, yet about one forgotten aspect of this relationship there is no debate: the Russians themselves loved Cuba. They could not believe their luck. Here was a freshly minted revolution that declared its support for the Soviet Union and for socialism, and was taking place on an exotic Caribbean island.
Old hands at the top like Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan, who had witnessed their own Russian revolution at first hand, were excited and rejuvenated by the Cuban experience. They saw Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as younger versions of themselves. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a poet from the next generation, found himself following in the footsteps of VV Mayakovsky, another great Russian poet who had been in Cuba in 1925. Yevtushenko had first visited the island as a correspondent for Pravda, and was soon recruited to write the screenplay for Soy Cuba. He too revelled in the colour and sounds of the tropics. For a director like Mikhail Kalatozov, who only knew of the unknown continent of Latin America through the fragments of Eisenstein's Mexico, the chance of making a film about Cuba was to put a lifetime's experience to good use.
A cinematic account of Cuba's revolution had been discussed and planned in the early months of the new Soviet relationship, after the US-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Castro, like all good leftists, was an enthusiastic follower of cinema, well versed in Hollywood productions, and well aware of film's usefulness as propaganda. His student friend Alfredo Guevara, a movie-maker and an independent-minded communist, had been put in charge of ICAIC, the new state film enterprise, creating one of the most significant and long-lasting achievements of the revolution. ICAIC produced a string of prize-winning feature films as well as the brilliant documentaries of Santiago Alvarez.
Cinema had been the chief relaxation of the Cuban public ever since the 1920s, and in no other country in the world did US films play such an important role in popular culture. The activities of film stars were laid bare in Havana's fashion magazines and gossip columns, providing models for how people should look and what they should wear. By the 1950s, more than 500 cinemas had been built across the island: air-conditioned cinemas, drive-in cinemas, and even the triple wide-screen Cinerama.
With the revolution, the importation of US films slowed down, and after the imposition of the economic embargo it stopped altogether. The Russians moved in to fill the gap, showing films and helping to make them too. Mosfilm, the Soviet film studio, jumped at the chance of joining forces with ICAIC to produce a film about the revolution, and two of its star figures, Kalatozov, the director, and Sergei Urusevsky, the cameraman, were despatched to Havana with the untested Yevtushenko as the scriptwriter.
Kalatozov, born in Georgia, was nearly 60, with a long and inevitably conflictive career in the Soviet film industry behind him. Starting in the 1920s in the days of Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, he had moved in and out of favour, but a recent film, The Cranes Are Flying, had been an international triumph. This story of a love affair in wartime Russia, with Urusevsky behind the camera, had won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1958. Kalatozov was now given the opportunity to do for the Cubans what Eisenstein had done for the Russians - to make a movie like Battleship Potemkin, the classic film account of the Russian mutiny in Odessa during the revolution of 1905.
Sponsored by Mosfilm and ICAIC, Soy Cuba was supposed to be a joint production, and Yevtushenko had a Cuban counterpart, Enrique Piñeda Barnet, also a writer and poet, to lend a hand with the script. But the film that eventually emerged was a Soviet take on the Cuban experience. The Cubans provided the history, the scenery and the actors, many of them amateurs, but the Russians controlled the direction, the script and the camerawork.
Set in the mid-1950s, in the middle of the Batista dictatorship, the film was originally designed to have five related scenes, although these were eventually boiled down to four discrete episodes.
In the first, an American tourist picks up a Cuban girl in a bar and is taken to her home in a shanty town; his departure in the morning causes dismay to a Cuban fruit seller, already enrolled in revolutionary activities, who loves the girl. In the second, a peasant is evicted from his cane field because the land has been sold by his landlord to the US United Fruit Company; he sets fire to the cane and burns down his house in despair. In the third and central section, a student revolutionary plans to shoot the fascist police chief but cannot bring himself to fire the shot when he sees the man surrounded by his young family. He leads a student demonstration on the steps of Havana university in a scene that echoes the massacre on the Odessa steps in Potemkin, and is himself shot by the policeman who has none of the liberal qualms of his victim. In the final section, a peasant in the Sierra Maestra who wants nothing more than to be left in peace is drawn into the revolutionary war after his home has been bombed by Batista's air force. Three captured guerrillas, asked about the whereabouts of the revolutionary leader, claim proudly in turn: "I am Fidel."
The bare bones of the script may read like a propaganda endorsement of the accepted Cuban version of their revolutionary history, yet in the hands of Kalatozov it becomes an epic and poetic account that transcends its subject matter. It has many European echoes, recalling the movies made about the fight against fascism and about the partisan struggles in the second world war. Yet there are also references, in the early scenes in the Havana bar, to the old Hollywood movies that used Latin America as a romantic and escapist backdrop. Here the tourist cliche turns into a subtly-sketched portrait of the Ugly American.
Most memorable of all is Urusevsky's innovative camerawork. Filmed in luscious black and white, the hand-held camera moves in long continuous takes, sweeping languidly through the fields of sugar cane, or moving across the Havana rooftops, past the bathing belles, into the swimming pool and under the water. In one incident Batista's face appears in a newsreel shot at a ceremony celebrating his alliance with the Americans. The image slowly breaks up and bursts into flame, while the camera pulls back to reveal the American-style drive-in cinema that has just been fire-bombed by the revolutionaries.
The Cubans had mixed feelings about the film. Maybe it reminded them too much of the old American era which clearly fascinated the Russian film-makers. Maybe they did not care for the scenes of extreme poverty in town and country that they were trying to forget and to remedy. Maybe they would have preferred a more heroic presentation of their revolution. But for the ordinary viewer over the years, the film, as its title implies, is not so much about the revolution as about Cuba itself. It brilliantly evokes the vibrant atmosphere of the island, and of that extraordinary decade when the Cubans moved out of the American sphere and began to carve out a new world of their own imagining." - Richard Gott
"The island of Cuba has never looked as fantastically exotic as it does in "I Am Cuba," a nearly 2 1/2-hour swatch of cinematic agitprop that aspires to be the "Potemkin" of the Cuban Communist Revolution. Completed in 1964, during the headiest days of the romance between the Soviet Union and Cuba, this Russian-Cuban co-production is a feverish pas de deux of Eastern European soulfulness and Latin sensuality fused into an unwieldy but visually stunning burst of propaganda. Supervised by the great Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov, who is best known for "The Cranes Are Flying," it suggests Eisenstein filtered through "La Dolce Vita" with an Afro-Cuban pulse.
"I Am Cuba," which opens today at Film Forum, is structured like a social realist mural with five panels, each of which illustrates a different aspect of the revolution. After surveying the fleshpots of tourist Havana with a leering disapproval, it moves into the sugar cane fields, then returns to the city to follow the leftist student movement. From there it journeys to the country to show the bombing of the innocent peasants' hillside dwellings. It ends in the mountains marching with Fidel Castro's ragtag army.
Although the movie has a cast of hundreds, its characters are little more than stick figures on which to hang the movie's revolutionary rhetoric. The heroes include Betty (Luz Maria Collazo), an exploited Havana bar girl who lives in a seaside shack; Pedro (Jose Gallardo), an impoverished cane cutter whose land is sold out from under him; Enrique (Raul Garcia), a militant student leader, and Alberto (Sergio Corrieri), an indefatigable freedom fighter. With their shining, idealistic faces, they are picture-postcard revolutionaries working against a government run by cigar-smoking, sour-pussed monsters.
Leading the list of enemies are the fat-cat American businessmen (including one grotesque Jewish caricature) who draw lots for the favors of Havana bar girls forced by poverty into prostitution. In one of the film's most inflammatory scenes, American sailors singing a jingoist anthem chase a frightened young woman (Celia Rodriguez) through the city's deserted streets.
Threaded through the screenplay, written by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and the Cuban novelist Carlos Farinas, is an oratorical narration by a woman representing the anguished soul of the nation. "I thought your ships brought happiness," she tells the ghost of Christopher Columbus. "Ships took my sugar and left me in tears." The oratory escalates, as she describes the trunks of palm trees filled with blood and finally exhorts the nation's farmers to exchange their tools for rifles. "You are firing at the past," she declares. "You are firing to protect your future."
What makes "I Am Cuba" much more than a relic of Communist kitsch is Sergei Urusevky's visionary cinematography. The film's high-contrast black-and-white photography, which renders palm trees and sugar cane fields a searing white against an inky sky, illustrates the revolution's explosive polarities and burning passions.
The frequent use of a distorting wide-angle lens enhances the surrealism, lending the scenes of Havana nightlife an ominous, fishbowl artificiality. In a spectacular sequence set on the deck of a luxury hotel, the camera follows bikini-clad tourists from poolside to underwater. The influence of New Wave cinema is felt in several scenes shot with a hand-held camera. In a scene that recalls Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," the camera frantically gyrates on the dance floor of a fancy nightclub. Tame by contemporary standards, these depictions of capitalist decadence remind one that nothing looks more dated than yesterday's depravity.
Urusevky's photography ennobles the revolutionaries by gazing up at them like living statues. As student revolutionaries are gassed and shot at by henchmen of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, they become mythological figures advancing heroically through parting veils of smoke. The film's relentless monumentalizing of heroes and villains may be visually impressive, but it eventually becomes wearying.
"I Am Cuba" is finally more than just a celebration of a revolution. It is a dream of life in which everything is reduced to black and white. Or as the rhetoric used to go, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Nothing was ever quite that simple."- Stephen Holden
The story may be a facilely idealistic piece of propaganda, but it's (accidentally?) subverted by Kalatozov's love of cinema.
This rewrites the textbook of how to shoot a film.
It's a vibrant, joyous piece of technical accomplishment that's probably one of the most relentlessly innovative films you'll ever see." - Jamie Russell