Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I am Cuba

This Monday we showed Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 film, “Soy Cuba” (Я - Куба) at our Swindon Socialist Film Club. There were 18 people there, including some new faces, although I feel a bit guilty that we didn’t make enough effort to talk to people afterwards. I think we are al a bit tired at the moment, as there is so much political stuff going on.

Soy Cuba is probably the most visually beautiful film I have ever seen, certainly comparable to the best cinematography of Hollywood’s masters like James Wong Howe. The interplay of influence with Hollywood is also interesting, for example the famous 10 minutes single take from Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) was technically interesting but not artistically satisfying. The opening 10 minutes of “Soy Cuba” include the most extraordinary single take that sweeps from overhead through partying holiday makers and takes the shot underwater! Indeed the film is so visually rich that it is almost intoxicating. There is also a scene where three rebels are captured by Batista’a army, and in conscious tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, each says “I am Fidel!” Allegedly Scorcese watched Soy Cuba to learn techniques used in "Goodfellas", and the opening sequence of "Boogie Nights" would also seem to be influenced by it.

(Actually, not only was the film visually intoxicating, the event was in a pub so it was literally intoxiciating as well. In tribute to the film's theme I thought the occasion merited breaking out a Romeo y Julieta Churchill, which i think is the best smoke of its size)

Soy Cuba uses the technique of four almost wordless short stories. The first of which is extremely clever – showing a glamorous and lusciously decadent nightclub, and allowing us to enjoy it long enough before revealing that it is a brothel, and then taking us into the life of one of the prostitutes. In a brilliant touch the American businessman who buys the girl also insists on buying her crucifix, against her wishes, a rape of her cultural identity. As the Sex Pistols said, “Cheap holidays in other peoples’ misery” (Brilliant and worth watching)

The other three stories concern a peasant farmer evicted from his land, urban student revolutionaries, and finally the process that leads a peasant to join Fidel’s army. The film concludes with a sweeping march of Fidel’s army.

It is certainly a great film, but I am not sure how satisfying it was as a political event, It is a bit long and too arty for some tastes, and some people went to the bar for the second half. Some other people complained it was a bit propagandistic. But in truth it is no more propaganda than most Hollywood fare, but it cuts against the grain of our common sense expectations. What is more, the picture it paints of Batista’s Cuba and the crying need for social justice was true


seren said...

Is it on DVD or video?

AN said...

DVD £12.99 from MovieMail

It doesn't seem to be available on VHS

Louisefeminista said...

It is indeed a stunning film.

And on the internet movie database ( is a debate about the film and one thread is called, "If you like this film you're a commie"!

The film was censored in the States until 1992. Rather like Battleship Potemkin, which was censored in the UK until the mid-1950s.