I Am Cuba (1964)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Historical Epic, Propaganda Film  |   Run Time - 141 min.  |   Countries - Cuba   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

I Am Cuba is to communist propaganda what Triumph of the Will is to the Nazi cause. Leaving aside the content of the two films' messages, these are exceptionally well-made works of cinema. While Triumph director Leni Riefenstahl was confined by the limitations of her subject -- providing a record of the 1934 Nuremberg rallies -- Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov had a freer hand with this co-production between the Soviet Union and Cuba. His screenwriters, the Cuban writer Enrique Pineda Barnet and Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, created a quartet of stories to illustrate mostly the ills of the Batista regime, with only lip service paid to the advantages of a Communist alternative. But in constructing a framework for a variety of settings, from decadent Havana nightclubs to the sugar fields of the lowlands to the lush forests of the mountains, the stories gave Kalatozov and his immensely inventive cinematographer, Sergei Urusevsky, myriad opportunities to celebrate the physical beauty of Cuba (and its people). The filmmakers can't keep their cameras still -- one amazing shot, during an urban funeral procession, begins at street level, rises to the open window of a third-story cigar factory, continues through the factory and out another window to follow the funeral from overhead down a narrow avenue. The effect of all that movement is to suggest a country in upheaval and transition. I Am Cuba will likely go down in history as the ultimate film record of the communist revolution in Cuba, if only because of the consummate skill it employs to illustrate the roots of that movement.