I Am Cuba (1964)

“Nothing’s indecent in Cuba.”

I am Cuba was made in 1964 as a propaganda film funded by the Soviet government. The film’s intention is to show how bad life in Cuba was before the revolution that replaced Batista with Castro. The script is coauthored by Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Cuban novelist Enrique Pineda Barnet and directed by Russian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov.

The film contains 4 sections or stories that illustrate the abuses of the Batista regime. The first involves a young girl who is employed at a nightclub. The second is the story of a sugar cane farmer. The third is the story of a student who becomes swept up in the revolution, and the final story is the tale of a peasant who is provoked into fighting the Batista government.

The depictions of the Americans in the film are clumsy. The first story contains some nightclub scenes with Americans, and the Russians who play the Americans whoop it up–playing Americans as they think decadent Americans would act when unleashed in a Cuban nightclub. In the third story, a gang of hormone-driven American sailors hunts down a terrified Cuban girl on the streets on Havana. But these scenes are isolated, and more amusing than anything else.

The film’s great beauty has to be in its extraordinary cinematography–black silhouettes against the landscape, palm trees swaying in the wind, and smoke swirling in the cloud-filled skies. The film also captures the backbreaking hopelessness of terrible, inescapable poverty. The dialogue is in Spanish with Russian voiceover and subtitles in English. Foreign film fans should take the time to seek out this remarkable film–it’s really worth watching for the cinematography alone.

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Filed under Political/social films, Soviet

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