Monday, February 24, 2020
2020 Blind Spot Series: I Am Cuba
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov and written by Enrique Pineda Barnet and Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) is a film set during the final days of the Flugencio Batista regime as it tells four different stories about life in Cuba during that time and its aftermath under the new regime of Fidel Castro. A mixture of documentary and fiction, the film explores Cuba and the changes that would come following Batista’s departure from the country. Starring Sergio Corrieri, Raul Garcia, Jose Gallardo, Jean Bouise, and Luz Maria Collazo. Soy Cuba is a majestic and evocative film from Mikhail Kalatozov.
Set mainly during the final years of the Flugencio Batista rule of Cuba, the film follows the lives of four different people in four different stories and how they were affected by Batista’s rule and the eventual revolution that was to come led by Fidel Castro. It’s a film that play into Cuba at a time where civil and social unrest is starting to emerge in the city of Havana, nearby slums, and into the woods and sugar cane fields where four different people deal with the struggle of their oppression in the country. The film’s script by Enrique Pineda Barnet and Yevgeny Yevtushenko does have this element of Soviet propaganda as the film was co-funded by both the Soviet Union and Cuba about what Cuba was like during the days of Batista though the stories that Barnet and Yevtushenko do tell showcase that things weren’t great for Cubans under Batista as well as the fact that they had no true identity until Castro came in and gave them one for better or worse.
All four stories would feature narration known as the Voice of Cuba (Raquel Revuelta) who would precede each story that is to come as it play into the oppression and struggle that Cubans would endure under Batista. The first story involves a woman named Maria (Luz Maria Collazo) who lives on the edges of Havana’s shanty-towns as the city is filled with American and European tourists socializing at casinos and bars where they have fun and boss around the locals including Maria who meets a man named Jim (Jean Bouise) as she acts as a bar prostitute with a fruit-seller boyfriend in Rene who is aware of her troubled double-life that makes her unhappy. The second story is about a sugar cane farmer named Pedro (Jose Gallardo) who lives on a land surrounded by sugar cane with his son and daughter yet the land is sold by its owner to a fruit company making Pedro obsolete as he would lose his home but doesn’t tell his son and daughter what happened.
The third story set in Havana is about a student named Enrique (Raul Garcia) who is part of a student rebellion group in support of the revolution as he would encounter American sailors harassing a young woman named Gloria (Celia Rodriguez) while copes with his work in his rebellion group as he tries to assassinate Havana’s police chief. The fourth and final story is about a farmer named Mariano who works and lives in the forest with his family as he encounters a revolutionary who wants him to join the revolution as a way to give his family a better life. Mariano rejects the offer only to endure the horrors of war from his government as he makes the decision to join the revolution and earn their respect. The stories all have these characters deal with their own internal conflict but also this amount of abuse they endure from either foreigners or from the government.
Mikhail Kalatozov’s direction is definitely stylish but also manages to capture so much of Cuba during a time of civil and social unrest yet he doesn’t show that side of Cuba early on. Instead, he shows the beauty of the landscape early on as it is narrated by the Voice of Cuba as it then cuts to a party on top of a hotel in Havana. It is there that the first of many intricate tracking shots occur as it is presented in such style where the camera would get wide shot of the landscape and then go down to a few floors and then follow a party and then onto a swimming pool capturing people swimming underwater. It sets up the first story of Cuba as this idyllic tourist attraction to visitors but to the Cubans, it is anything but paradise. Kalatozov would often use hand-held yet controlled cameras to move through certain locations and such as well as get close-ups of certain characters along with medium shots of characters interacting and in their setting.
Throughout the course of the film, the camera is often moving along with some anamorphic lenses helping to capture the scope of the locations whether it is Havana, the sugar cane fields, or in the Sierra Maestra Mountains where the rebels are fighting. Kalatozov would also get creative on some of the tracking shots he created such as a funeral procession scene where the camera is walking onto a building and looks down at what is happening and then captures some of the coverage on the air through the usage of pulleys and camera vests to get these amazing shots. Kalatozov also adds this cinema verite style that does make the film realistic as if it was shot during the late 1950s during Batista’s reign as well as provide this air of cultural identity that would emerge in the Cuban Revolution. Overall, Kalatozov crafts an intoxicating and ravishing film about the struggles and turmoil of Cubans before the emergence of Fidel Castro.
Cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white photography that captures the beauty of the locations as well as using natural lighting for scenes set in the day and at night as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Nina Glagoleva does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward that include some rhythmic cuts to play into some of the drama. Production designer Evgeniy Svidetelev does terrific work with the look of the homes of a few of the characters in the shantytowns and forests to play into poor conditions they live in. Costume designer Rene Portocarrero does nice work with the costumes from the ragged look of the farmers to some of the more stylish clothing of the people in Havana. The sound work of Vladen Sharun is amazing for the sound of locations as well as the music that is being played as well as the sounds that Enrique hears to play into his dramatic conflict and the sounds of cannons and bombs falling from afar in the film’s final segment. The film’s music by Carlos Farinas is brilliant for its mixture of percussive-based music with some strings and Afro-Cuban based music as it is another highlight of the film that play into the drama and atmosphere of Cuba.
The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable performances from Sergio Corrieri as a student leader in Alberto, Jean Bouise as the American tourist named Jim who tries to woo Maria, and Celia Rodriguez as a young woman named Gloria whom Enrique protects from American sailors. The performances of Raul Garcia as Enrique, Luz Maria Collazo as Maria, and Jose Gallardo as Pedro are superb in displaying the natural approach to acting as well as playing up the struggle that their characters endure as much of the film’s cast consist of amateurs and non-actors to add that air of realism into the film.
Soy Cuba is a tremendous film from Mikhail Kalatozov. Featuring a great cast, intoxicating visuals, phenomenal camera work, and an insightful look of pre-Castro Cuba and the early days of the Cuban Revolution. The film is a fascinating look at a time when a country is dealing with their identity to the outside world as well as eventually claim their own identity for themselves through the stories of four different people dealing with the oppression of the Flugencio Batista regime of the times. In the end, Soy Cuba is an outstanding film from Mikhail Kalatozov.
Mikhail Kalatozov Films: (Their Empire) – (The Blind Woman) – (Salt for Svanetia) – (Nail in the Boot) – (Courage (1939 film)) – (Valery Chkalov) – (Invincible (1942 film)) – (Plot of the Doomed) – (Hostile Whirlwinds) – (True Friends) – (The First Echelon) – The Cranes Are Flying - (Letter Never Sent) – (The Red Tent)
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