World Cinema Wednesday: I Am Cuba (1964)

AKA Soy Cuba.

One of the toughest films that I have had to review, so far, for World Cinema Wednesday, this is also one that I knew I HAD to review, as soon as the end credits started to roll. It’s a sublime, beautiful, experience. Part socio-political exanimation of Cuba, part travelogue, the whole thing allows viewers to roam the titular country like a ghost fleeting through buildings, alongside people, and above many turbulent moments.

There are four different sections, roughly. The first looks at the divide between those who are rich enough to carouse their way around the bars of Cuba and those who have to earn a living from keeping them happy. The second shows the effect on a peasant farmer after he is informed that his land has been sold. The third depicts some students banding together in organised political activism. The fourth, and final, segment shows the upheaval of wartime.

Most viewers will get various mileage from these different segments, as happens with any anthology, but there’s something to enjoy and admire in almost every scene. Although the characters often feel secondary to their main environment, enough information is given to sketch out each story, yet nothing is distracting enough to pull you out of the immersive experience.

Written by Enrique Pineda Barnet and Evgeniy Evtushenko, the biggest compliment I can pay them is to say that I wasn’t even sure if anything for this film was actually scripted, beyond some complex technical notes (we’ll get to those in a moment). Points are made without anything being delivered too bluntly, at least up until the main “punchline” of each story, and the fast and loose nature of the dialogue and character interactions keeps everything feeling incredibly realistic and natural.

Director Mikhail Kalatozov has given cineastes quite an astonishing piece of art, especially when we consider the year in which it was made. Piecing everything together like a precisely-machined engine, he utilises skilled and brave camera operators to create a number of extended shots that rival anything you can see put onscreen today. It’s dizzying, dazzling, gravity-defying, and all done for the benefit of showing off every single aspect of Cuba that can be displayed while events unfold.

Probably best watched while enjoying a cool rum drink on a hot summer day, for maximum effect, don’t let that stop you from seeking it out even sooner. If you’re a fan of cinema or Cuba, or both, then you won’t regret it.

DIRECTOR: MIKHAIL KALATOZOV
WRITER: ENRIQUE PINEDA BARNET, EVGENIY EVTUSHENKO
STARS: CUBA
RUNTIME: 141 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: CUBA/SOVIET UNION

Film Rating: ★★★★½

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