I Am Cuba (1964)


Directed by Mikhail Kalatzov

Written by Enrique Pineda Barnet & Evgenly Evteshenko

Starring: Sergio Corrieri, Salvador Wood, Raul Garcia

Trivia: Fidel Castro, Raoul Castro, and Che Guevera acted as technical advisers on the film, shot shortly after the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Art meets propaganda in I Am Cuba.  In 1961 Soviet director Mikhail Kalatzov was commissioned by his government to make a movie about the Castro movement.  After the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba, Castro’s government found a strong ally in the Soviet Union. I Am Cuba consists of four vignettes of everyday Cubans.  All four stories condemn American capitalism and the corruption of the Batista regime that was overthrown, but they also speak to the people’s determination to fight injustice.

The first chapter follows a group of American businessmen who scheme to make millions of the backs of the Cuban people while they exploit their women.  The next story depicts hardworking farmer and his family who are kicked off their land at the behest of the United Fruit Company.  The third and most cinematic vignette follows a group of students at Havana university who want to join Castro’s movement. The last part is a portrait of a peasant family who are visited by a rebel soldier. At times these situations are heavy handed, but also exciting and beautifully shot.

A common link between all four stories is the need for unity between all people to achieve change: between the educated and the proletariat, men and women, young and old.

Kalatzov’s camera glides through each story, like the eye of God granting a glimpse into how the world works.  The style reminded me of Terrence Malick, especially in The Thin Red Line.  Musical interludes often accompany the long tracking shots.

Interestingly, I Am Cuba pleased nobody upon its initial release.  Soviet and Cuban authorities were unhappy with the final product and the film went mostly unseen for decades.  Cubans especially resented being portrayed as victims.

Filmed after the Bay of Pigs and shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis, I Am Cuba is a timeless account of the most dangerous period of the Cold War.  Important issues are raised including Third World politics, American imperialism, and the revolutionary awakening of the global underclass. These themes alone make Kalatzov’s film an excellent starting point to debate/discuss the conflicts of the era.





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