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  • MartinHafer17 December 2014
    "I am Cuba" is propaganda and cannot be taken very seriously as far as its idyllic view of Cuba is concerned. The Batista years and Americans in the film are almost cartoon-like in their simplicity-- it was not meant as non-fiction but as a way to drum up support for the Castro regime among the common people. But, if you look at the film for its artistry, it is very nice. It features some very creative and artsy camera-work--and so despite being in black & white, it looks great. And, while the style film wasn't exactly to my taste (with its lyrical and poetic qualities), it was well done. So, overall, I'd say that this Soviet-Cuban co-production is a pretty film and is worth seeing-- just don't take it as a snapshot picture or as pure history.

    By the way, because the film was not intended for American audiences, it sure would have been nice for the DVD to have captioning for the Americans. This is because I couldn't understand a lot of what they were saying--and I assume many other English speakers might also have this difficulty.
  • In talking about Cuba, people often forget about how things were under Fulgencio Batista. The Cuban-Soviet co-production "I Am Cuba" shows how things were. Throughout four vignettes, we see a Havana prostitute struggling to make ends meet, a humble farmer whose livelihood is destroyed by landowners, students fighting against the repressive police, and finally, people joining up with the revolutionary army.

    The whole thing is really socialist realism: the heroic peasants rising up against the oppressive bourgeoisie and getting martyred. But, we have to admit that what "I Am Cuba" portrays is accurate. I don't know for sure whether or not things got much better after the revolution, but most Cubans certainly prefer things as they are today over how things were under Batista. Either way, the movie can also be interpreted through its camera work, showing Cuba's landscape and employing some interesting dollies.

    Yes, it's propaganda, but as far as I know, conditions have improved in Cuba ever since they abolished the ladyfinger system and prosecuted Batista's thugs. This movie reminds of things in the same way that "Schindler's List" does.
  • Four vignettes about the lives of the Cuban people set during the pre-revolutionary era.

    The film was not received well by either the Russian or Cuban public and was almost completely forgotten until it was re-discovered by filmmakers in the United States thirty years later. The acrobatic tracking shots and idiosyncratic mise en scene prompted Hollywood directors like Martin Scorsese to begin a campaign to restore the film in the early 1990s.

    The film is great, but the story of its journey is almost greater. Because of the discord between America and Cuba, the Cubans turned to the Soviets for movie-making. The film was not popular, and was not shown in America (again because of the Cold War). And then it urns up one day... and what do we see? A great use of the camera, and something almost like a documentary, capturing Cuba in 1963/1964, not long after the revolution. Although scripted with actors, the scenery is very much a true document of Cuba.
  • The power of I Am Cuba as a piece of pure cinema is two-fold. The director, Mikhail Kalatozov, needed to make a film in the same urgency of the present tense with a country, to 'document' as it were the wave that Cuba was riding with its revolution. It was an exciting, dangerous, uncertain but promising time, and whichever side could agree that the country had changed forever. Like Eisenstein, one part of the impact is for Kalatozov to present fragments of the country of Cuba to the whole world, something that proclaims loudly, proudly what the country strived for an possibly won.

    But there's another part, maybe a more crucial one than the given propagandistic side of it, to take the art of film-making to breathless invention and surprise and passion, breaking the boundaries of the early 1960s via Eclair cameras. Perhaps instinctively Kalatozov, Urusevsky and his screenwriter knew that there had to be something else to the picture to make it stand out from typical propaganda, of the same beat of the drum. It takes so much courage to take the simplicity of message or rhetoric and to film it as if the subjects are documentary but the form is complete fever dream and heightened hyper-reality.

    I Am Cuba will remain a document of a time and place and aspirations of a people. But long after Castro dies or the Cuba of his uprising fades or changes to a different political denomination (if it hasn't already), it will be a great piece of film-making, one of the towering examples of taking the tools of the art- light, hand-held cameras, tracking shots, cranes, natural light and filters and the distinct lenses- and applying them like almost no other film like it at the time. The most wonderful thing to keep in mind about this filmmaker is that he's a poet and technical revolutionary first, communist sympathizer second.

    Some may disagree with the message, and they're not without reasons. Though it's hard to disagree on how much Kalatozov and his crew get done with seemingly so limitless a budget. So many scenes and sequences stand out as triumphs of control of the mis-en-scene, masterpieces of preparation and blocking out the scene and creating unforgettable figures with the locals. The scene early on at the hotel with the camera moving around from person to person and dropping down and then tracking into the swimming pool is the most famous example. Lest not forget transcendent shots like the nightclub tracking of the singing or simple shots like the farmer working the sugar cane happily at first, the camera gliding through the field and the canes, and then the fury of the technique mirroring the farmer's breakdown following being told his farm and home are no longer his (the actor, or non-actor as it probably was, is incredible here).

    Or the student, Enrique, who sees the hears a man singing a song as he enters a hotel to commit an assassination of a political figure, only to have the song come back into him, haunting his consciousness while he aims miles away. Another that could be analyzed in a master's film class, just one shot, is on the crowd in the street for the funeral of the boy, as the camera goes along on the roof then through the room of workers and finally gliding off the roof looking down on the crowd. Did I mention how awesome they use things like waves of smoke or camera tilting or just masses of bodies walking through muddy waters with rifles in hand? There's more and more I could go on about, but it might spoil some of the surprises in store.

    Is it, perhaps, a God-like or other-worldly presence Kalatazov means to have on I Am Cuba? Surely the narrative voice transforms it/herself into the very nature of cinematic expression at most times, an alive point of view. Above the political and national reason for the film to exist, which is a strong one, is as a testament of physicality, of atmosphere of a city or farm or slum or hotel or mountain, of the joys and horrors and sorrow that are in all people. The film is about Cuba and its people and political upheaval, but it is also about human nature, survival, adaptation to circumstances, love. And all of these themes and ideas are important as the subject matter, and this might already make it a must-see. But for anyone, any student of film or person looking to the past for possibilities of movies in the future, it is required viewing.

    It may have come to the United States and other parts of the world too late in an influential respect (think how rich the 1970s might have been if it had been released in 1964), but it's not too late to influence others, and it still does. Its significance with regard to film style is comparable to Citizen Kane - mesmerizing is the only word for it.
  • Thank you reviewer NIKITIN for bringing some balance to the body of reviews. Soy Cuba's themes are indeed more important than the flashy technique, dazzling as it is. Of course, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the innovative camera work. And ironically this was at a time when Americans were told that Soviet cinema was nothing more than variations on the stodgy 'boy meets tractor'. Whatever the truth of this-- since their movies were never shown over here-- Soy Cuba shows the spirit of Eisenstein was still alive in some quarters of that huge nation.

    Actually, the movie could have been much more critical of US policy than it was. For example, the first vignette could have shown that Meyer Lansky and the mob were actually running the casinos and prostitution of Havana—one reason the mob conspired with the CIA to kill Castro. In fact, Cuba under Batista was sometimes called 'America's sewer'. Thus, the movie's revolutionary message should be celebrated along with the terrific cinematic effects. And had the US wanted a genuinely non-aligned Cuba, we could have started by avoiding the embargo, not invading the island, and foregoing efforts to assassinate its leader. Then the island nation might not have had to go halfway around the world to find allies and a trading partner.

    Anyway, the movie dramatizes key elements of the popular uprising, each vignette standing for a crucial broader dynamic. On the whole, the movie comes as a startling surprise that shouldn't have taken 40-years for the authorities to allow our public to see.
  • Is this the best film ever made? For me today in its afterglow it is.

    I'm so fickle. I think if all else were equal, I'll always take embodied, real cinema that is coherently integrated. The way of telling the story is ideally complex and folded, using tricks to make the story matter. But if the storytelling is less spectacular, as long as the thing engages, that's what matters. If it changes me, its art and important, regardless of whether I can tell a good story about the storytelling.

    That's the way I prefer. But sometimes the storytelling is so spectacular, so engaging in itself, that it doesn't matter what the story is. These are rare, because after all, you need the touch to change your life. So a filmmaker as unsophisticated and unattractive as, say Elia Kazan, can modify my existence when partnered with Williams and Brando.

    And this story... what is conveyed here is mostly lies. Or rather it is a target story that is transparently bankrupt. Its based on an embodied reality of sorts. But its a twisted vision. The racism is palpable. The superiority of the European eye and mind are overwhelming. The simple notion of good and evil is less nuanced than in Star Wars or its predecendent westerns, and is intolerable. (This may be simply because history advises that both the Soviet and Cuban experiments were more brutal than what they replaced.)

    But what cinema! What life! Just inhabiting this world has adjusted my imagination and dreams. The focus is usually on the extraordinary flying camera, because its so obvious, striking. It is, and if it were just that, I would still get you out of bed and across town to see this. But the flying eye is integrated with an architectural expression that is far deeper. The actors and camera move through buildings, fire, smoke, cane, trees, exploding dirt. This is as amazing the first time, just in wondering how they did it. Knowing the technology used, it seems impossible, and that knowledge actually distracts. You have to see this several times to just get past the wonder at the talking dog.

    Then you can get into the visual poetry of thing. It isn't about people at all. They matter not at all except as fodder for ennobling posters. What matters is the structure of the forces that surround and channel them here and there like turbulent banks. This is a project centered on those forces, incarnated as spatial forces. Where in another project you wonder how a dog can be so dramatic, here you wonder how the director was able to control fire and smoke to be so perfectly compliant. Its not embodied in the story, which is daft, but in the real world that contains it.

    This is absolutely in the spirit of Tarkovsky, and is the only film I know that betters him visually. Its less human, but oh so spatial. You must, must see it.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "I am Cuba" is a Soviet funded propaganda film designed to promote international socialism. It deals with the Cuban revolution but is mostly remembered for its acrobatic and innovative camera work.

    The film was virtually unknown for a number of years, before reappearing in the late 80s. Its inventive style would prove hugely influential on both Paul Thomas Anderson and late period Scorsese. "Goodfellas" and "Casino" owe much to this film. "Boogie Nights" also copies a long take, in which a camera prowls a party before eventually diving into a swimming pool.

    Director Mikhail Kalatozov, who made the excellent "The Cranes are Flying", remains virtually unknown today. His films are filled with remarkably complex long takes and some pretty daring camera-work. For "I am Cuba" he custom made his own rigs, dollies and camera mounts, and as a result the film has a virtuosity that you simply didn't see in the 50s and 60s. Kalatozov zooms along buildings, hurtles up staircases, zaps down Cuban streets and plunges through pulsating crowds.

    The film's actual plot consists of 4 interwoven stories, designed to promote revolution and the "greatness of socialism". The problem is, Kalatozov is so in love with his camera that he completely forgets he's making a propaganda flick. The film touches upon some facts, highlighting that a handful of American owned mega corporations were oppressing the vast majority of Cuban people, but it also makes Capitalism seem damn seductive, by focusing on snazzy American hotels, partying Cubans and the fun nightlife.

    As a result of the film's confused message, "I am Cuba" was rejected by its Marxist backers. The film's flamboyant style was seen to be too free, too liberating, thereby obscuring the intended message. We see shanty towns and poverty and yet Kalatozov makes it all seem so damn sexy.

    7.5/10 - A strange film. Still, it remains a technical milestone.

    Worth one viewing.
  • My usual problem with Kalatozov, this time amplified by the propaganda nature of the film and made obvious for that reason, is that his subject matter keeps me at a distance. But at the same time, what dazzling displays of cinematic fireworks his movies are! No one films a clouded sky like Sergei Urusevsky, with that pristine quality dreamlike and supine, and no one has ever made a camera seem more alive dynamic and freewheeling than you'll find in Kalatozov's movies. There were times the movie made me wonder in awe with jaw agape as to where the camera was mounted, how it seemed to float in the air above a crowded street, having already tracked up four stories and across the street and through a room and out the balcony, hovering suspended in the air as though by an act of sheer cinematic will, amazing if just for the blocking and coordination it would have required. As someone who's indifferent/contrary to Communism, Soy Cuba's best case for the power of collective strength does not come through in the agitprop subject matter, the onedimensional depiction of hard edged patriotic Cuban guerillas fighting against all odds and oppressed peasants having their land stolen by rich landowners and student radicals rioting in the streets against the fascist police and being shot down by them, this in itself borderline successful not because it imitates real life because a propaganda piece is immediately negated if tries to replicate real life but because it imitates melodrama we're already vaguely familiar from other movie plots; Soy Cuba's best showcase of Soviet will comes in the amazing cooperation it must have took to make the camera move the way it does. These people were making cinema that was unthinkable in the US at the time for anyone not called Welles. If Soy Cuba is a celebration of Communist ideals, a failure as a narrative because of the intellectual dishonesty necessary in concocting a propaganda film, it's also a celebration of amazing cinema, a success despite itself, not for plot drama or characters, but for the simple joy of staging beautiful elaborate images, for the amazing camera-work, for the stark black and white, a lot of it self-indulgent, the camera moving for the sake of movement and the joy of it, the actors treated as little more than walking props the camera can circle around. When Kalatozov introduces a blurry dreamlike flashback it seems to swim out of the head of the character who experiences it. When the same character torches his own cane field, Kalatozov orchestrates a vision of hell, the camera itself dancing through swirling flames and billows of black smoke. I can't really praise the visuals enough. As with other Kalatozovs, the story prevents me from tenning it, but from a technical standpoint, this will blow your mind.
  • "Don't avert your eyes. Look! I am Cuba. For you, I am the casino, the bar, hotels and brothels. But the hands of these children and old people are also me" -- Yevgeni Yevtushenko

    I Am Cuba is described by film critic Elliot Wilhelm as "a unique, insane, exhilarating spectacle". Filmed in Spanish, dubbed in Russian, and subtitled in English, this unique collaboration between Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes are Flying), the poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, and writer Enrique Pineda Barnet dramatizes the conditions that led to the 1959 Cuban revolution. Originally made in 1964 (and unpopular both in Russia and Cuba), it was released in 1995 through the combined efforts of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

    I Am Cuba is set in the late 1950s when a ragtag bunch of students, workers, and peasants organized to overthrow the corrupt regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. The film is divided into four sequences. The first depicts the American-run gambling casinos and prostitution in Havana. The next shows a farmer burning his sugar cane when he learns he is going to lose his land to United Fruit. Another describes the suppression of students and dissenters at Havana University, and the final sequence shows how government bombing of mountain fields induced farmers to join with the rebels in the Sierra Maestre mountains. The final scene is a triumphal march into Havana to proclaim the revolution.

    Marvelously photographed in black and white by Sergei Urusevsky and using acrobatic camerawork by Alexandr Kalzaty, some of the shots and distorted camera angles are so staggering as to be virtually unbelievable. In one sequence, the camera lifts off from a hotel rooftop, takes in the Havana skyline, descends several floors, winds its way through the poolside party-goers, and then takes you for a swim in the pool in one continuous shot. Reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein, the caricatures are broad but are presented with such exuberance that it hardly seems to matter. Audacious and imaginative, I Am Cuba is a revelation, not only for its style but also for its inspiration. Filmed with true visionary poetry, I Am Cuba transcends the genre of advocacy filmmaking to reach a pinnacle of cinematic art.
  • The cameras are flying in this remarkable display of cinematic poetry that elevates I Am Cuba's heavy handed and sometimes mawkish propaganda message to an effective and inspiring pedestal. Like Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will it is both visually mesmerizing and immediate to the early glories and heady times of change through revolution before the total onset of the totalitarian dictatorships that followed in each country.

    The dictatorial and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista is in it's final days but the exploitation and repression of the Cuban people living amid poverty continues. The somber sultry beauty of the rhythmic isle we float through is suddenly thrashed by the crass noise of sloppy rock and roll poolside amid tall hotels and voluptuous swim suit models. Other interrelated stories feature a woman forced through economics to peddle herself to unctuous American businessmen and along with a student activist fight off a platoon of loutish US servicemen. Outside the city the farmers are also exploited by United Fruit Company and attacked indiscriminately by government planes. The cause is clear for all; they must rise up against the tyranny. This point is gracefully and heroically conveyed from end to end in I am Cuba.

    Matching their masterful artistry displayed in the powerful and moving The Cranes are Flying, Soviet director Mikhail Kolatozov with cinematographer Sergei Uresevsky blueprint some audacious camera acrobatics. With some of the finest tracking and crane shots I have ever witnessed (the hotel pool scene and the funeral for the student activist are as good as it gets in any film) I could rhapsodize endlessly on its form but I am Cuba's content also offers some fascinating incite to time and viewpoint. The film is anti American Imperialist, Capitalist, Western Influence and Coca Cola with a hint of anti-semitism thrown in but even with this stilted viewpoint I am Cuba remains a powerful and moving document on the struggle against government repression.

    All leaders of the Twentieth Century understood the power of film and its possibilities to reach, persuade and motivate the masses to their way of thinking. Propaganda is an indispensable tool to all who hold power and film is a perfect delivery system. Democracies (The 49th Parallel, Purple Heart) as well as Dictatorships (see above) and anyone else interested in consolidating and maintaining power would be lost without it. I am Cuba is a magnificent and passionate tract in that vein that clearly does Castro proud but with nuances in ideology would have done the same for Roosevelt Churchill or Robert Mugabe. In the case of I am Cuba it's the singer not the song that shines.
  • Socialists make much better films than they do economic policies. This is a prime example of some of their best work in propaganda. It captures the realities of Cuba in the late 1950s under the corrupt Batista regime, and the necessity for an overthrow of that government (with no help from the US). This aint Woody Allen's Bananas; this is a gutsy examination of the conditions that led to the Cuban Revolution. How unfortunate that Castro was not able to implement a true democracy and sound economic principles in a new Socialist state. In reality, one despot was just replaced by another. Great filmmaking though.
  • With Fidel Castro currently in a precarious medical condition, this infamous 1964 film, later revered by film scholars like Martin Scorsese for its often breathtaking camera-work by Sergei Urusevsky, takes on a most interesting relevance now. As much as Leni Reifenstahl glorified the Third Reich in 1935's seminal "Triumph of the Will", Russian director Mikheil Kalatozishvili goes the same route with this joint 1964 Soviet-Cuban production which has been designed completely as a pro-Castro tribute. Political controversies aside, what continues to fascinate about both films is how audaciously cinematic they are in their own ways.

    In Kalatozishvili's case, he uses off-kilter camera angles and naturalistic, documentary-like techniques in rich monochromatic black-and-white to bring to life four vignettes about post-revolution Cuba. Made in the throes of the Cuban Missile Crisis to prove to the world how Cuba has prospered, the film does evince a sense of dynamic liberation about the people, but it is not entirely successful in supporting the political causes it espouses. At times, the director can get somewhat didactic in his approach, especially in the unsurprisingly negative portrayals of the Americans. Make no mistake that this is a propaganda film. The stories focus on a prostitute in Havana who is abused by her wealthy American client, a farmer who decides to burn off his sugar cane fields rather than hand them over to a greedy landowner, a group of students who fight the police in the name of the revolution, and a peasant family who perilously joins the guerrilla forces in the hills.

    Starting with the use of a female voice-over as Cuba, the movie has some innovative elements that range from boldly symbolic to emphatically bizarre. The most famous is at the beginning, a long, uninterrupted tracking shot that starts with a beauty pageant on a hotel rooftop and then descends five floors to a poolside party below where the camera isolates a woman entering into the pool. Another is a massive funeral procession shot from overhead. The soundtrack is quite eclectic with native Afro-Cuban rhythms alternating with almost Coplandesque musical passages and he natural sounds of Cuban life. Sometimes the filmmaker's panache gets carried away with itself, especially when the vaunted execution of Marxist principles becomes intertwined with the majestic power of nature. Non-actors certainly add to the documentary flavor. It's an intriguing film well captured in a pristine print transfer on the 2000 DVD, but despite its originality, it runs rather too long at 141 minutes. The only other extra on the DVD is the 1995 re-release theatrical trailer.
  • What an absolutely fascinating film. Pure propaganda for the then newly victorious revolutionary government of Cuba, funded by the Soviet Union and created with both Cuban and Soviet creatives (directed by the Cannes Palme d'Or director Mikhail Kalatozov), and absolutely engrossing from a technical standpoint, the film doesn't quite reach as high from a narrative point of view.

    Four separate vignettes that tie together thematically about the need to rise against the American proletariat, some are more successful than others. I think the best of the four is the second, where we see a tenant farmer told by his landlord that he has sold the land and the farmer must go. The farmer sends off his children to have a nice day in the village and proceeds to burn the crops and the small cabin they had called home. I think that the only major flaw in this small story is the fact that the farmer just suddenly keels over dead. It doesn't quite fit the particulars of the action (though a heart attack is not a difficult thing to imagine), and feels over-dramatic.

    And that's really what hampers the narratives of the other three, a sense of over-dramatics that end up diving head first into melodrama. The first story is centered around a Cuban girl who prostitutes herself to American tourists. Having her sell her precious crucifix to her john after their night together is enough. Having her fiancé walk in to see the girl and the john dressing afterwards is too much. Then the john wanders through the slums as the poor beg him for any money and the voice of Cuba hypnotically hammers home the obvious message. The narrative of all four (least of all the second) gets hampered by the need to propagandize.

    What's ironic to me is that the film was suppressed by Soviet authorities because they found it to be not propaganda enough for their tastes, but the propaganda seems to drip off of everything to me. Still, I don't love this movie because it makes me want to take up arms and join the glorious cause alongside Fidel and Che (it doesn't). No, I love this film because in addition to having four largely good stories (hampered, of course), it is a marvelous technical exercise.

    There's an early shot that gets a lot of attention when people talk about this movie. The camera starts on the roof of a hotel, goes down the side of the building, wanders through a sitting area, and ends up filming swimming tourists under the water. I wasn't that blown away by the shot, but there's one later, in the third story, that did blow me away.

    We've seen a group of students bravely rebel against the tyrannical Batista by printing leaflets, confronting the police, and defending Lenin. A shootout ensues and several of the students get murdered by the police. There's a funeral procession and the camera, in a magnificent shot, follows along the ground, goes up the side of a building, through a group of cigar rollers who stop what they're doing to unfurl a Cuban flag against the building, and the camera then passes over the crowd, in mid-air, and watches the coffin from above. There's one seam in the shot (we can see the wire the camera is traveling on as it passes over the crowd), but I'm still amazed at the achievement.

    The camera movement doesn't completely capture the depth of the filmmaking ability there. The film is primarily made up of long shots that drift in an out of action. All done without Steadicam (which wasn't invented for about another 15 years), the camera rushes into conversations and ends up with perfect compositions. Like the American john in the foreground looking blankly at the prostitute while her fiancé stares at him over his shoulder, just out of focus. Or the shot of the prostitute and her fiancé walking along the street as he sells fruit early in the story and the camera suddenly tilts to see the two at the bottom right and the full form of the church in Havana that dominates the top left.

    It's a very good movie, all done in the service to one of humanity's great evil regimes. Your mileage may vary.
  • For the movie made over 40 years ago, Soy Cuba/I Am Cuba/Ya Kuba, is an innovative and very beautiful. I won't be original to mention at least two long scenes in the film that are absolutely brilliant and can be enjoyed on their own over and over again. Besides, these scenes don't have triple narration, just the music that makes them even more impressive. Speaking of the languages presentation, the DVD leaves a lot to be desired. The film is presented with English subtitles, spoken English and Spanish, and Russian voice over which is very annoying. Even though Russian is my native tongue, I looked for the option to turn off the narration but unsuccessfully. With all these voices and subtitles that won't go, you are distracted from the visual beauty of the film which is its best value. I suggest, you go on YouTube, find the rooftop scene and the funeral procession, and watch them in awe, be amazed and fascinated. That's basically all I have to say about Soy Cuba, the propaganda film that was made in 1964 during the victorious days of Fidel Castro Revolution and high hopes for new happy life for the hard working citizens of the Caribbean Paradise Island. Ironically, the film "I Am Cuba", as anti-American propaganda as they ever come, made as a Cuban-Soviet co-production, was not widely released in either pro-Communist country and was almost forgotten until it was restored and presented in the USA in the middle of the 90s by two celebrated American Film Directors, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola.

    Of course, I am impressed by its brilliant cinematography, and who would not? I am not going to describe the beautiful insanity of Sergey Urusevskij's camera in the opening scene of the film or its free soar in the funeral procession later into the picture. It's been done hundreds of times already. If you need an explanation on how these impossible camera movements were achieved, go to Soy Cuba Wikipedia page - they have a thorough and detailed description of the shooting process and how it was done. But let me tell you something. If you really want to see a great Soviet film made by the same Director-Cinematographer team, the wonderful, engaging, fascinating, ahead of its time yet truthfully depicting the tragic events of the history FILM, with the shots that are included in the text books, with the poignant touching story, with the real characters that you never forget, watch Mikhail Kalatozov's B/W film "Cranes are flying" which he and his genius cinematographer Sergei Urusevskij made in 1957. Cranes Are Flying has never become outdated and never will. It will stay unforgettable and compelling as well as cinematographically perfect as long as the Art of Cinema lives. Cranes are Flying is timeless. Soy Cuba is a product of certain time period and its politics. It is not even the problem that the film is a shameless propaganda. The propaganda can be powerful and artistic. Watch for example ten minutes long animated film of Jan Svankmajer "The End of Stalinism in Bohemia". One of the reviewers on this site is asking "How did they dare to make such a film in 1963?" I guess the answer is that by 1963 the short period in the history of the USSR which is known as "thaw" or "ottepel'" that began after Stalin's death in 1953, was over. The 60s represented the return to the Stalinism aesthetics even if officially it had never been admitted. It would take another quarter of the century until the truth about some events and politics was finally told during the "perestroika" in the late 1980s and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. IMO, Soy Cuba is overall a weak film with very creative virtuoso cinematography. I suppose that the Film Students will learn a lot from its technical values but it is a film with the parts much better than the whole thing.
  • I don't know much about Cuba. I do know that Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba is Mike Leigh's third favourite movie, so on that undeniable recommendation, I had to see for myself. The film dramatises the country's urgent need for revolution, as political oppression stirs great discrepancies in the communities. It's formed of four allegorical vignettes, covering many war- torn scenarios; a Cuban woman who sleeps with Americans to make a living, a farmer whose land is taken from him, a rebellious student who rises up against the oppression, and another farmer who realises the only way to get peace is to fight for it after his land is blown apart. Even though characters are clearly symbolic of class divides, ideologies, religions and cultures, Kalatozov's approach still leads it to being an actor's playground, as they tackle tough moral dilemmas and impossible problems often without dialogue.

    Although it often breaches melodrama, they're always deeply tender. Admittedly, the characters are superficial, obvious regarding what they stand for and too fleetingly presented to get under their skin, but the film manages to conjure the stomp of a nation with its network of active characters. What's most notable about I Am Cuba is the sensational dizzying cinematography. It's constantly mobile, hand-held, with a distorted lens, and it often opts for Dutch angles. But there are some improbable camera moves that made my jaw drop as the camera passes stories and through buildings and across streets. Even in black and white, it has such a hot suffocating atmosphere and captures such tension in the air. Paired with the abrasive music, it's an utterly remarkable experience. This is the type of film i would've fallen head over heels for just a few years ago - now I'm a little more reserved, but consider me floored for I Am Cuba.

  • I still remember the excitement when I saw this film for the first time in an arthouse in the '90s. The film had just undergone a restauration financed by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

    Director Mikhail Kalatozov is known for "The cranes are flying" (1957). A film critical on the Soviet system and characteristic of the greater artistic freedom of the Chroesjtsjov years. In 1964 the Chroesjtsjov years are over, the Brezjnev years are begun, and Kalatozov is making a propaganda movie.

    But what for a propaganda movie! The film consists of four episodes. Two episodes about Americans misbehaving themselves in Cuba, and two episodes idolizing the liberator Castro. Particularly the first two episodes on the Americans make an impression. In the beginning there is a scene where the camara moves between a partying crowd and ends underwater in a swimming pool, and that in a time long before the handheld camera!

    But in 1964 Castro was no longer a liberator but the new dicatator, and the Cubans did not warm up for the story the movie told them. After circulation in Soviet cinema's "Soy Cuba" went to the attic of film history, until Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola gave the film a second life.
  • Cosmoeticadotcom7 June 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    Mikhail Kalatozov's 1964 film, I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) is probably the most divergent film I've ever watched in terms of the quality of its constituent parts. It is, as its reputation boasts, visually stunning, imaginative, innovative, and flat out great. But, in terms of its narrative, it is hackneyed, trite, and unimaginatively anti-American in its blatant agitprop, and laughably bad. And I say this fully aware of the Ugly Americanism that has wrought the communist fervor that still grips South America, as well as the Islamic Extremism, because the propagandizing in the film has a seriously negative effect on the film, to the point that its labeling as 'Commie kitsch,' by many of its detractors, and even some of its champions, is dead on.

    The film was a joint Soviet-Cuban production, meant as blatant propaganda for the Communist cause, but Kalatozov's film so rhapsodized Cuban sexuality and reveled so in its visuals, that even its backers as Mosfilms, the Soviet State film company, pulled it after a short distribution period. It was critically denounced both in Cuba and the Soviet Union. It was not until filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Francs Ford Coppola saw and championed it in 1995 that the film got its first taste of critical success in the West. The film was written by Enrique Pineda Barnet and Russian state poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and the cinematography by Sergey Urusevsky, as mentioned, deserves all the plaudits it can muster. The acting is passable, at best, and wooden, stilted, and forced, most of the time. The film was shot in black and white, and used using color filters to exaggerate contrast, as well as using wide angle shots in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film's music is diegetic and not, but the one aspect of the film that is neither good not bad, overall; although in certain scenes the singing and music are wonderfully evocative of time and place.
  • film-critic15 January 2006
    I must admit, this is my first experience with a Russian propaganda film. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect. Willing and able, I was ready to be bored to death with trivial political matters, textbook film-making, and passionless stories. As the film closed, I did witness some of the aspects that I was expecting. The stories needed to be further developed and the politics of Cuba needed to be explained instead of countering with the mythological island conveying its heartfelt feelings … yet there was something compelling about this film. The cinematography was brilliant. From the opening sweeping scene of the island to the dramatic walk through the streets of Cuba, I was captivated by the beauty that filmmaker Mikheil Kalatozishvili chose to explore while making this film. Without caring about the stories, you could easily be swept away by the sheer enjoyment of the camera work with this film. Kalatozishvili was that impressive. He reminded me of a mix between Jarmusch and Lynch and a sprinkle of Stone (Oliver that is).

    Soy Cuba was like watching a one sided debate, which works when creating a propaganda film. I know very little about the history of Cuba, or the regime in place prior to Castro, but I needed to see more of that in this film. I needed a bit of history, a little less overly played drama, and more "true" stories. If this is a Moore-like propaganda film, I have no doubt that Russia could pull true stories from the people of Cuba and recreate those instances. I do believe that what we witnessed were somewhat true, but overly exaggerated. If prostitution was an understandable and common, not respected, form of employment, than why would the "boyfriend" be upset? If sugar was such a priceless commodity, why didn't the landowner take that before selling the property? If the Cuban police force was that corrupt, would you feel that these students would have a secondary plan in place? Finally, the peaceful villager who wants to fight to end the war seemed a bit too bold to be honest. There just seemed to be a sense of drama surrounding these stories. Again, I suppose that you need them to create a true propaganda film, but would you not agree that a debater discussing the horrors of abortion by just telling stories after stories would not fully convey the point without some moments of history. In Soy Cuba, there needed to be more of these points. There needed to be facts, there needed to be honesty, and there needed to be a stronger divide between drama and truth. I believe that what Cuba was experiencing was terrifying, but I needed stronger evidence to support it. From an outside viewer looking in, I wanted to be persuaded. By the end of this film, I was not.

    I am a stern believer in skipping the special features of a DVD because those should not sell me on the film. It should be the film itself that is good, not necessarily the quality of the excess features. In past reviews, I have not mentioned the quality of the DVD because I want to have the film speak for itself. For Soy Cuba, I will break from this tradition, but just this once. The quality of this DVD is poor. I am not speaking of the transfer from film to DVD (which is not half bad), but it is the choice to use both Russian and Spanish dubbing with English subtitles throughout the entire film. I found no way to turn this off. Whenever a character had to speak in Spanish, we were bombarded with both the subtitles and the Russian dub over the voice. After the first fifteen minutes, this became extremely annoying. In fact, it takes away from the strength of the film. By the end of the two hours, you are either confused because you couldn't catch everything the characters were speaking, or you have a headache from trying to keep it. It was embarrassing.

    One cannot finish a review of this film without again stating the strength of the cinematography. Very few films seem to capture the beauty of a land, no matter if it is being torn apart by a government, or getting ready for a Russian rule. Soy Cuba accomplished the impossible and gave this beautiful island the cinematography it deserved. I mentioned before the sweeping opening shot, but the infamous "top of the hotel to the pool shot" kept me breathless. It was so impressive to the craftsmanship of the camera come into play with this film. You could tell there was heart and passion behind the camera, I just only wish there was more demonstration of that passion in front of the camera.

    Overall, the cinematography cannot stand alone. I thought long and hard about this film, and while I thought that Cuba was beautifully captured on film, the stories themselves did not stand up well over time. I also had major concerns about the lack of dedication to the DVD. The horrendous dubbing and painful translation was enough to churn the strongest of stomachs. With all of these points going against it, I do not think it is a film I could sit through again. There is a scene in the film where a man is boating down the river dodging your typical "rivery" obstacles, slowly taking his time as our "island" narrates some truths that are unknown. This scene best summarizes this film. Soy Cuba was slow, overly dramatic, and avoiding as many obstacles as possible that would have transformed this film into a stronger film. The only plus I can give it is the cinematography. Those interested in filming film need to see this movie, otherwise a National Geographic special would do better.

    Grade: ** out of *****
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Whats really different form a dictatorship centered around greed or one that's in the name of the people.Both are bad and Cuba is still not democratic yet.But this movie is good.Created in a documentary type style.At first I was surprised how it began , knowing that this was a communistic propaganda film,or seems that way.The modern hotel sequence .The beauty contest and the rock music.It later dawn on me that this was about Cuba in it's first dictatorship,right before more corruption.Baptista and Castro .Whats the difference?It first it starts out with a women name Maria who is forced to do prostitution to make end meet.Her boyfriend who sells fruit on the street wants to marry her in the church.But she reject him He eventually finds out when he goes to her hut with bananas and the tourist leaves.Then the tourist faces poverty every where .Children asking of money from him.The narrator states You want fun? that's fine but there's poverty too.Then the next story is a struggling sugar cane farmer and his two grown children.He has been struggling to grow sugarcane .He finally has done it.With his two children help they start chopping it down.everything looks good until the men he got the loan from take his land away from him,then theirs an attempt by an anti Baptista activist to assassination one of the officials.A student protest that leads to death.I don't know how the filmmaker got away with this.since it criticized the poverty that still existed after Castro.It really has not gotten better.Although years later Castro would allow the gambling place and more night clubs to reopen for the tourist economy.But it's difficult to visit and really it's not worth it,to give money to a dictatorship. 08/12/12
  • Marwan-Bob9 September 2019
    Oh My God what did i Just Watch... EPIC... what a Rollercoaster, Thank You Cuba For This Masterpiece, Going Straight to my Top 100 Films list.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba in spanish) is an interesting movie that is unfortunately very unknown in the western world. This is mainly because it is not from the US, but is in fact a joint production between the Soviet Union and Cuba. Made in the early 60s, the communist government of Fidel Castro was already implemented for some time by this point, and the US cut relations with the country altogether. This meant that Cuban directors had to rely on the much more wealthy Soviet government to obtain funding and equipment for their movies. This movie is a prime example of that, because some parts actually utilize infrared cameras obtained from the russian military. Shooting with this type of camera creates a distinctive look, such as when it shows a sunlit sky that somehow has a dark appearence. Directed by a russian, the movie itself has a strong resemblence to D. W. Griffith's Intolerance, because it involves 4 stories all going on at once. The only difference is they wait until each one is done until they show the next one. The first story is about a girl named Maria who works as a prostitute in a bar, catering to wealthy American businessmen. They're some of the only people in the film who speak english. Maria plans to marry her boyfriend Rene who makes a living selling fruit, but she doesn't tell him about her other life as a prostitute. One day, one of the americans goes to her house and attempts to buy her most sentimental item: a crucifix necklace. Just then, Rene walks in the house and sees his disgraced girlfriend, now aware she is a strumpet. The second story focuses on a farmer who is nearing the end of his life, and knows he will not be around for much longer. He wants his crop of sugar canes to grow very tall, not for him, but for his kids. Shortly afterwards, a few men ride up to his property on horses and tell him the land on which he lives has been sold, and his house doesn't belong to him anymore. He accepts the news, goes back to his kids, and tells them nothing is wrong when they ask him what the talk was about. He then gives his children some money and tells them to go enjoy themselves in the city. Once they leave, he lights his house on fire and commits suicide. The third (and arguably best) story is centered around a college student named Enrique who saves a girl from getting harassed by a bunch of rowdy american sailors on the streets of Havana. Later, he drops by his college to tell his friends that a rumor saying that Fidel Castro is dead is not true. Enrique is tasked with killing an important person from the roof of a hotel using a sniper rifle that has been stashed on the roof beforehand. Upon arriving and grabbing the gun, he looks through its scope to see the target eating breakfast with his children, and Enrique can't pull the trigger on him. He is picked up by one of his friends who gets angry at him for refusing to kill the person. Meanwhile, the cops raid a room full of other college students and find Marxist literature. The students rebel against the police and a riot breaks out, which leads to Enrique getting shot dead by the police after the students profess their love for communism. Finally, the fourth story is about Mariano, a man who lives in a shack in the Cuban mountains and lives a simple life. A soldier pays him a visit and insists he joins the revolution, but he turns him down. Shortly after, the area starts getting bombed by planes and Mariano loses his wife in the chaos, along with his children. Alienated and radicalized by this event, he takes up a rifle and is eager to fight for Castro alongside his socialist brothers. This is a very expansive movie to talk about. It has a lot of parts to it, and is quite long. Still, it is a very important movie because it employed lots of new camera techniques, and most shots in this movie are strange camera angles. As is the sad case with many other good movies, they aren't appreciated in their own time. Audiences back then in Cuba and the USSR didn't like this movie, probably because of its length, but from a historical perspective, it is very crucial. It shows how devoted people in Cuba were to Castro and his government, and Cuba was actually so determined to finish this movie they filmed right through the cuban missile crisis. The movie also has a woman narrator in between the four stories, who is supposed to be the voice of Cuba itself. If you have the time, and want to see a movie made by the USSR, this is for you.
  • I am Cuba/Soy Cuba features the stories of several Cuban citizen-types: a young prostitute, a farmer, a young revolutionary and so on, up to the start of the island's Castro Revolution.

    If this sounds dull, then rest assured that the plot is minimal and, despite it's avowedly political purpose, hardly gets in the way of the film's main attractions today. What distinguishes the production is the cinematography. It is not an exaggeration to say that the images and technique in the film are breathtaking, and it is a tour-de-force of bravura camera work. Apparently Martin Scorcese has screened this film privately to work out how such-and-such a shot was achieved, and perhaps it's influence can be found in the famous through-the-kitchens tracking shot in 'Goodfellas'.

    This is a film where the camera is constantly in motion, with sweeping balletic long takes, crane and hand held shots, tracking shots, including some over and down the side of buildings, through cane fields, into swimming pools, around packed night clubs, even hovering and moving along high over a street in the middle of a packed funeral procession - all without the usual cutting. I estimate the average length of a take in this film at about 2 - 3 minutes, a figure rare and astonishing these days, even with the benefit of steadicams - but jaw dropping given the still-unwieldy equipment they were surely using in 1964. In particular one or two large scale sequences must have taken days, if not weeks, to prepare, and presumably needed government marshaling to choreograph. (Ironically, whether or not the film makers intended it, the liberated camera work on display here reflects the notion of revolutionary freedom far more than the actual story vignettes.)

    The film itself is shot in high contrast gleaming black and white, favouring wide angle lenses, and with a constant deep focus that reminded me of Greg Toland's work for Welles or some of James Wong Howes' work. Kalatozov's use of a handful of character 'types' throughout recalls Eisenstein's (and in fact there is a faint reference to his the Odessa Steps sequence in 'Battleship Potemkin' at one point when the revolutionary rioters march down some steps), but the effect here is far more sensual and lyrical. (Among the professional actors, Sergio Corrieri also appears in the better-known Memories of Underdevelopment). The film's 'artiness' is undeniably a distraction from the message of struggle, and to the original viewers the beautiful images must have been a long way from reality in the New Cuba.

    Today we don't have this problem and the viewer is left with a visual feast to enjoy over and over again..
  • loganx-218 July 2008
    Maybe one of the best movies ever made! I think I could watch Kalatozishvili (say it three times fast) film grass grow and be spellbound. The camera literally dances, and is a character in it's own right.

    Four stories about the Cuban life before, during, and ending with the revolution. We see the Havana nightclub prostitute (the films most dazzling moments, like coming to Cuba for the firs time), a farmer whose loosing his land to US Fruit(the films most spiritual moment), a student activist poised to be a terrorist or a martyrs, and a family man and pacifist driven to war...but who cares! This is not an effective propaganda film because by the end of the movie, your not so much mad at the big bad West, as you are just disappointed there isn't more. You care about the characters certainly, but you care about them as individuals, beset by the troubles of "life", and not as a faceless nation, engaging in a "fight". Propahganda to work needs a "them" for "us" to turn our attention towards, look at Micheal Moore's films, for examples of this. "I Am Cuba" has foreign and internal devils, but each story is told so well, you feel for the characters, and not some abstract notion of the "the Cuban people".

    The sheer cinematic strength of the film, it's composition, AMAZING tracking shots(ripped off by Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorcesse, and Tartovsky, to name a few...they each steal scenes, and even then that's not half of the amazing images.), music, and performances are so good they transform and transcend the story. What Sergio Leone did for the Western in "Once Upon A Time In The West", and Stanley Kubrick did for science fiction in "2001: A Space Odyssey", is equivalent to what this film does for propaganda.

    Cuban public at the time though it was too stereotypical (a fair critique, the director and crew are mostly Russian), Soviets thought it was too soft on capitalism and the west, film makers everywhere I imagine wet themselves.

    Quite possibly one of the best films ever, never seen in the US, til the mid 90's. The portrayals of Americans are amusing to say the least (think of all those furry hated evil Russians in cold war movies to be fair. Think "Red Dawn" for Christ sakes) Anyway if you like "great films" see this, its exhilarating and beautiful, and as a whole it more than makes up for the sum of its parts. Incredible.
  • First, the artistry is too intimidating. It'd be like promoting Dostoyevsky to Dickens fans. Some of the scenes are so beguiling they defy adequate description. But some will think it much too slow, which might have been a good point if it hadn't taken place on a Caribbean island. I was made to feel what it was like to do the tedious work of cutting sugar cane all day and then be thrown into so much despair, you feel you must strike out.

    Cuba before the revolution was deeply involved with gangsters and criminals, but this film makes no mention of them, showing Batista and American sailors and businessmen as the bad men, mindlessly exploiting the grinding poverty reserved for the peasants.

    The real delight of this movie is the awe inspiring photography, and especially, the long, no-cut scenes done in an era before steady cams and lightweight equipment. Apparently it was all done with infrared film which the Soviet military had available in abundance. (The greenery is often white as a result.) Regardless, it's really enough to recommend it highly as you will wonder at times why we were denied such beautiful work all these years.
  • This Soviet Union / Cuban co-production Soy Cuba (I am Cuba, 1964) is not among the most incredible, literally and completely objectively, pieces ever made for its message, universal theme or other mental content to be expressed, but for its camera usage and images. They are unlikely ever to be surpassed and even if they were, this was most likely the first that took the tool this far to the outer limits of human abilities! Director Mikheil Kalatozishvili tells four different stories inside the almost exploding Cuba, calm Mother that cries tears for what people have done to her, that are practically not related even though they all show the politics and victims of the situation that led to violent revolution in 1959. But as mentioned, the ending of the film or political opinions are definitely not too special or universal, so the film would be pretty lame without its visuality. Cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky is something that brings only few makers to mind. Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966) has genuinely some of the greatest black and white photography and crane shots in cinematic history, but maybe surprisingly even more Cuba brings Ukrainian born montage director Aleksandr Dovzhenko's Earth (Soviet Union, 1930) to my stunned mind, with the latter film's totally incredible imagery in the calm country side fields to which the technology and "civilization" is arriving. One story in Cuba is very "field oriented" and even though Dovzhenko's camera angles and takes are not very able to be compared with Cuba (in fact, they are often pretty far from each other), the atmosphere is very similar with the films. And needless to say, the montage imagery throughout the film but especially at the ending of Dovzhenko's film is incredible and unforgettable.

    Another film that comes to my mind is Gillo Pontecorvo's La Battaglia di Algeri (Algeria, Italy, 1965) which is perhaps more vital in its message and varies from a very fast documentary style narration and feel of restlessness to more dramatic and calm moments with Ennio Morricone's music. This documentic and dramatic variation is often pretty similar with the two films and both films show the violent scenes very harrowingly in hald held camera and often with fast movements even though Pontecorvo's film has more of that kind of segments. And both have plenty of powerfully black and white smoke. It seems that these two films are so full of impact and timeless merits that all the things they have to deliver to the audience are almost impossible to take with just one viewing. The viewer is completely and literally breathless after both films either due to their speed and harrowing realism or poetic experimentations on camera possibilities never seen before.

    The crane shots, the low angle compositions, the long takes without cuts, the Peter Greenaway like usage of images that give space to the background (usually sky, which in itself brings Nicholas Roeg and his 1971 film Walkabout to my mind) are the things that burst out with the impact that is not to be written or described, it has to be experienced and seen as it is cinema. French director Gaspar Noé's cinematic tools are as powerful as those of the mentioned directors' and especially his Irréversible (2002) consists completely of long takes without edits and with miraculous crane shots. If the Cuba director and Tarkovsky would have been mutated into one individual, that would have possibly been Gaspar Noé as the visuality and themes these makers have are as unique as the amount of honest and uncommercial talents working in cinema nowadays.

    Soy Cuba is definitely among the few films that have my greatest praisings even though it offers no "serious theme or message" to deliver to the world, and the one it has to deliver to Cuba is the oldest mean mankind has lived together, always failing. The cinematic tools of the film are incredible and the two other directors mentioned here, having (had) the same potential have also delivered immortal and timeless themes and mental gifts to the world and mankind. Still that doesn't make the technical achievements of Cuba any less brilliant.
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