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Film / I Am Cuba

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At least United Fruit won't get it.

I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) is a 1964 Soviet film set in Cuba, about life in Cuba in the days leading up to the revolution. It was directed by Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes Are Flying).

The film presents four vignettes of life in Cuba:

  • The first centers around Maria, a young woman from the Havana slums who degrades herself by working as a bar prostitute servicing American tourists and businessmen.
  • The second tells the story of Pedro, a tenant sugar cane farmer who loses everything when his landlord sells the farm and his house out from under him to the United Fruit Company (notorious for its abuses in the Caribbean and Central America).
  • The third features Enrique, a student radical who is pushing for more vigorous resistance against the Batista regime.
  • The fourth is about Mariano, a peasant farmer who rejects the call for revolution, only to suffer a terrible tragedy at the hands of the Batista government.

I Am Cuba was a Propaganda Piece meant to portray the cruelty of the capitalist Batista regime and to celebrate the revolution which swept Fidel Castro into power. As a socialist film, it was less than successful. Cubans did not care for the stereotypical portrayal of the Cuban people, and the Soviets felt that it was too arty and not ideological enough. (The Soviets also felt that the portrayal of life in Batista-era Havana might have seemed too much fun.) Consequently, the film was barely released in the USSR and Cuba in 1964, and was not seen at all in the West. Thirty years later it was Vindicated by History when it was re-released, and celebrated mainly for its jaw-dropping camera work that features many, many Epic Tracking Shots and swooping crane shots.


Tropes:

  • Anthology Film: Four stories of life in pre-revolutionary Cuba.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Mariano refuses an invitation from a soldier to join Castro's army. Immediately after this happens, a government bombing raid kills his son.
  • Disturbed Doves: They're sent flying when the cops fire off a warning volley in an attempt to get the audience at Enrique's speech to disperse. A second volley actually shoots one of the doves out of the air, whereupon the film goes super-Anvilicious as Enrique leads a march away, holding the dead dove in front.
  • Drive-In Theater: A drive-in is firebombed by Enrique and his fellow radicals.
  • Dutch Angle: Used repeatedly in the Pedro story as soon as Señor Acosta shows up, riding a horse, to drop the bomb on Pedro.
  • Eagleland: Unsurprisingly for a Soviet propaganda film, this one is Flavor 2 all the way. Arrogant, crude Americans exploit the locals economically and sexually.
    • One highlight has the john who patronizes Maria get lost and stumble through the slums.
    • Later, American sailors walk around Havana singing an obnoxious (and fictional) patriotic song, before assaulting and nearly raping a young Cuban woman. She's saved by Enrique.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: When Mariano's sun is killed by a bomb, all Mariano can find is his doll.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The film's main claim to fame, as it is filled with shot after shot after shot, each of which would be a memorable Epic Tracking Shot and highlight of another movie.
    • The most famous one starts out with a camera at a rooftop party. The shot goes down a couple of floors of stairs to a hotel pool, then follows a bikini-clad swimmer as she walks to the pool, and then goes under the water with her as she dives. This scene was lifted over 30 years later by Paul Thomas Anderson in Boogie Nights.
    • Another, even more staggering tracking shot starts at street level during Enrique's funeral procession. The camera then rises four floors, then goes through a building (this part was done by crewmembers passing the camera hand-to-hand), then goes back to the crane shot as the camera leaves the building and continues to follow the procession.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: An elderly newspaper boy on a bicycle delivers false government reports that Castro has been killed in the mountains.
  • Faux Fluency: The "American" businessmen in the first story speak English with some not very convincing accents. The American sailors aren't much better.
  • Hitler Cam: How Enrique is framed when he's giving a speech to a large crowd. Since the camera is never still in this movie, this then becomes a crane shot where the camera rises to capture Enrique from the opposite perspective, from above and behind.
  • Hong Kong Dub: The first story features some atrociously bad dubbing in the nightclub scene, especially from the singer. The Enrique story also features some very bad dubbing when the American sailors are singing and then talking to Enrique.
  • I Am Spartacus: The Mariano sequence begins with three ragged Communist soldiers being captured by government men. An officer demands to know where Fidel is, and all three of them say "Soy Fidel" in turn.
  • In the Back: How Enrique's revolutionary friend dies, shot in the back by a cop while being frog-marched away by two other cops.
  • Narrator: Segments are linked by a female narrator that is meant to be the personification of Cuba itself.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Another showy camera stunt. When Pedro is hacking away at his sugar cane, the camera yanks back and forth in sync with the blade. Later, as one of Enrique's friends goes plunging off a balcony to his death, the camera spins around as he falls.
  • Refusal of the Call: Mariano wants to live in peace, and thus refuses an invitation to join Fidel's army. Tragedy makes him change his mind.
  • Stock Footage: A newsreel of Batista plays in a drive-in.
  • Thunder Equals Downpour: Pedro's story opens with a clap of thunder and an immediate rain shower as he looks over his crops.
  • Title Drop: First line of the movie, as the narrator is the voice of Cuba.
  • Voiceover Translation: Some editions of the film have all the English and Spanish dialogue over-dubbed with a Russian voiceover.

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