This docu-drama, along with “Triumph of the Will” by the German Lena Riefenstahl, is probably the best proof that a classic propaganda, agit-prop film can also have exceptional aesthetic and artistic value. Although it is obvious from the first scene to the last that “Soy Cuba” or “I Am Cuba” was a Cuban-Soviet production for the sole reason of glorifying the revolutionary struggle and victory of Fidel Castro and his guerrillas in the civil war there in the fifties, incredibly is what a good movie it is. It is interesting that due to the Western embargo on products from Cuba, this film was shown in America only in the early nineties, thanks to Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, a duo who can boast that they are not only the best directors that America has had, but also perfect film curators and film buffs.
After “Soy Cuba” was restored, it was shown at several festivals in America in the early nineties. Apart from the fact that the audience could laugh because thirty years later it turned out that nothing of what the people who wanted a fairer world and a fairer society had hoped for came true, people were amazed at the way this film was made. The director is Mikhail Kalatazov, a Georgian who won the Palme d’Or in Cannes for the famous film “The Cranes are Flying” from 1957, and watching “I Am Cuba” it is clear to us that he comes from the world of documentary.
Although it is a feature film, Kalatazov and the screenwriters, Cuban poet Enrique Pineda Barnet and Russian writer Yevgeny Yevtushenko, decided to make a docu-drama about life in Cuba on the eve of the revolution. It is a film that is bursting with anti-American and anti-Western propaganda and portrays the Americans as exploiters who destroy, steal and plunder this God-given beautiful country. As monsters that make the Cuban people poor and evildoers against whom hungry, miserable and embittered people rebelled for a reason. So although it cannot be denied that Cuba, on the eve of the revolution and during the time of President Fulgencio Batista, was in favor of America, which did everything there that the colonizers usually do to the colonized, when we watch this film today, it is clear to us that for the average Cuban, a lot happened after that. the revolution did not change.
That shortly after the coup and Castro’s coming to power, Cuba sank into even worse poverty and that the promises and hopes for a good, new socialist world of equals, just, rich and well-fed did not come true. As is usually the case in dictatorships, the ruling class has grown handsomely rich, while the average world has been impoverished even worse. However, that political aspect and the obvious propaganda function of this film are actually less important because he filmed Kalataz’s drama, which is a sensational visual treat, both poetic and naturalistic, and one actually has to wonder how something like this was filmed without modern film equipment.
“I Am Cuba” actually consists of several vignettes about life in Cuba on the eve of the revolution, and from the first scene the camera is stunning. It could be said that some version of Steadics was used there for ten years even before something like that was invented and began to be used en masse in film. The film was shot in long shots with the camera in motion and it is really hard to understand how some scenes could have been shot at all. We see Havana and the perfect colonial architecture of the old core of the capital of the Cuban metropolis in full glory, and practically the first scene is instantly enchanting. It starts at the top of the luxury hotel in Havana, where the Miss pageant is currently being held, and the camera sweeps through the building in one continuous shot, with all those young beauties and old Americans drooling after them. The camera goes up, down, squirms, follows one man after another until it finally ends up underwater, where one of the tourists has also gone.
And it is not only the visuals that are the exclusive value of this film, but the narrative is also quite interestingly designed, and we really follow every aspect of Cuban society on the eve of the revolution. From poor landless peasants who depend on the mercy of rich landowners to young city beauties who have to prostitute themselves to old foreigners in order to survive to young and miserable residents of cities and villages who rage because they are oppressed and join Castro’s guerrillas hiding in the jungles. The viewer can easily understand the dissatisfaction and anger of the average Cuban and understand why they wanted to overthrow the pro-Western regime, but they have to feel even more sorry for them when, decades later, we know very well how naive they were and what actually happened.