Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)
Presenting the Cuban revolution with the angle of the Soviet propaganda films, Mikhail Kalatozov’s filmmaking techniques overlays on its actual subject and shadows his storytelling. The sumptuous and extraordinary tracking shots of this visual masterpiece present four vignettes on the people of Cuba and how it led them to a revolt. Shot during the Cuban Missile crisis, Soy Cuba plays more like a documentary than a fiction. Manipulative and objective as it can be, the outstanding cinematography isn’t the only thing to notice.
The fact that Cuban didn’t liked the film being too stereotypical of their culture and the Soviets, who financed it to help spread socialism in the Western world, were disappointed because they thought it wasn’t as schocking and revolutionary like the films of, let’s say, Sergeï M. Eisenstein. So it got almost totally forgotten until the fall of the USSR around 1990. Progressively a cult followed its spreading around the world. Most notably, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola backed its restoration for future generations of film lovers. The most famous tracking shot of Soy Cuba got a brilliant homage in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights when the camera follows a character and goes under water without cuts or edits.
As a director Kalatozov is not that known even to the cinephiles. His other well known film is The Cranes are Flying, a masterpiece about the effects of the Second World War on civilians. Personally, I would easily state that it is the most humanist Soviet propaganda movie. However, Kalatozov is an underrated film director that sadly was artistically muzzled by the Soviet state. One of too many talented human beings that needed to fit into the political frame of the time.
An important aspect of Soy Cuba’s story is that it does not try to recreate the revolution of the Socialist party or the historical events that leaded there. It tries to explain how the people from Cuba felt they needed to go out in the streets and liberate themselves from the exploitation and the repression of their people. It is done in a way that tries to engulf the cities, the peasants, the workers, and the students. The exterior point of view of Kalatozov might be one of the main reasons why the story seems to be a little naive in its recollection of the rise of the socialism.
As of today, propaganda films are more subtle and hypocrite and they can easily pass under the radar. Neglected for a long time because of their use to opiate the masses, the soviet films are now some of the most inspiring works that crossed boundaries of filmmaking and in the same time muzzled their creators. Kalatozov was working very differently than Eisenstein but he managed to make some of the most inspired, and inspiring, films of his time.