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  I Am Cuba We All Want To Change The World
Year: 1964
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Stars: Sergio Corrieri, Salvador Wood, José Gallardo, Raúl García, Luz María Callazo, Jean Bouise, Alberto Morgan, Celia Rodriguez, Fausto Mirabal, Roberto García York, María de las Mercedes Díez, Bárbara Domínguez, Jesús del Monte, Luisa María Jimenez
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: She is Cuba, and she guides us through one of the most tumultuous eras in her history. It is said that when Christopher Columbus landed there he judged it the most beautiful place on Earth, but she observes that in spite of all the sugar that grows on it, there is a deluge of tears from the people who live there to be taken into account. How can tears taste so sweet? This is the conundrum that Cuba must wrestle with, as we take a journey to a time just before the revolution where General Batista's regime was making it a playground for the rich, but a misery for everyone else...

One of the most famous propaganda films ever made, sort of a counteractive to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will for the Nazis, this was the Communist authorities' attempt to make something just as iconic for the extreme left. A co-production between Cuba and The Soviet Union, where a lot of the money going into Cuba was coming from at that time, one of Russia's most respected directors was ordered to helm it, Mikhail Kalatozov who was best known at that time for The Cranes are Flying, but what he came up with was wholly unexpected.

It was more of an overreaching art film than a straight propaganda piece, and the Communists were not keen, not keen at all. Needless to say, those on the other end of the political spectrum were none too impressed either, with messages from the other side doing nothing for them, especially ones which depicted capitalist running dogs with such sharp disdain. So if the left didn't like it, and the right didn't like it, then who did like it and why is it still being discussed today? Step forward the film buffs, and their heroes such as Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, who began championing I Am Cuba as a visionary work.

Not perhaps as far as its political standpoint went, but more as a technical achievement for there were few who would fail to be impressed by this on that level. Kalatozov's camera, all deep focus lenses and luminous black and white photography, is restless and searching, seeking out all that is relevant to the lessons it imparts and making sure we are in no doubt that the revolution was the only way forward for Cuba. We are offered four stories to illustrate this, the first concerning a nightclub hostess who in spite of her obvious revulsion with her way of life is forced to stick with it or be reduced to begging.

In this, as in the other segments, it is the Americans who have forced the common folk into this predicament, as we see in the second where a farmer growing sugar cane is forced from his land by the owner who has made a deal with United Fruit to take over, leaving the farmer without even a home. Again, the style is close to hallucinatory, turning nightmarish as the imagery sways and reels under the injustice of the characters' situations, not quite punch drunk from the cruelties of life, as it is clear headed enough to see what is creating them, but sent stumbling until a solution is found. That solution being, get rid of the corrupt Batista and his American cronies and put Fidel Castro in charge, as realised by the third protagonist, a reluctant sniper who comes around to the uprising, and another farmer in the countryside for whom armed struggle is taken to his doorstep. Certainly I Am Cuba isn't going to change anyone's opinions, and is heavy handed as most propaganda is (dead dove of peace, anybody?), but the sheer flair this is vividly brought to the screen with is undeniably fascinating. Music by Carlos Fariñas.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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