I AM CUBA (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)

Written by Yevgeni Yevtushenko and Enrique Pineda Barnet, and directed by Mikheil Kalatozishvili (a.k.a. Mikhail Kalatozov), and brought to the U.S. belatedly—by thirty years—by enthusiasts Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, Soy Cuba will have to do until Chris Marker’s legendary documentary ¡Cuba Sí! (1961) greets our eyes. More operatic than analytical, Kalatozishvili’s Soviet-Cuban co-production improves steadily. The third of its four segments promises a smashing payoff; the final segment delivers. With whatever difficulty one navigates the film, the viewer leaves it enthralled, elated, and appreciative of the fact that Batista is where he belongs, eternally burning in hell. Castro isn’t seen or heard throughout the film.
     Cuba—a female voiceover—narrates. Cuba has been betrayed, its natural destiny thwarted. The first segment painfully demonstrates Batista’s Cuba’s moral disarray. The second segment implies the ideational alliance among capitalism, colonialism and feudalism; but the scant survival of farmers who work the land that others own is more compellingly treated in other Latin American films, among them, Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s Barren Lives (1963). The land’s sheer fruitfulness, however, deepens our sense of the exploitation of workers. The third segment focuses on student agitation leading to revolution. This theme emerges: the liberation of Cuba is every Cuban’s struggle. One student’s disavowal of another’s radicalism is resolved when the disapproving student himself joins the struggle, inspired by the spirit of the student who has since been murdered by authorities. Likewise, in the final segment, a farmer throws out one of Castro’s guerillas before throwing in his lot with them when his family is attacked. Earlier, one of Batista’s soldiers asks prisoners about Castro’s whereabouts. Each in turn answers, “I am Fidel!”
     Kalatozishvili’s extended, winding camera movements are awesome, at times deliriously so, and his brilliant black-and-white cinematographer, Sergei Urusevsky, achieves luminous results.

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