"They’re going to be carrying ravished film students out of the theaters on stretchers," wrote Terrence Rafferty in the New Yorker when this astonishing Soviet-made portrait of Castro’s Cuba was rediscovered in the mid 1990s. Featuring some of the jaw-dropping camerawork ever filmed (and decades before the invention of the Steadicam), the movie is a euphoric celebration of Cuba, the Revolution, and (most potently) revolutionary cinema.
In the early 60s Fidel Castro welcomed radical filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker and Cesare Zavattini to witness his new socialist Cuba, but it was the Russian Mikhail Kalatozov and his collaborators who produced what now looks like the revolution’s most extraordinary art work.
Infused with a palpable love for the country and a righteous anger at the injustices of the Batista era, I Am Cuba is a propaganda picture in four narrative sections. In the first, three ugly American businessmen carouse with prostitutes in a bar; in another, a tenant farmer torches the land that has been sold out from under him; a third features a radical student protestor; and the fourth shows a peasant farmer take up a rifle after his son is killed in a air strike on the rebels.
The stories are simple polemic, but they assume real power from the spare script by poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and especially from the lyrical, sensuous traveling shots composed by cameraman Sergei Urusevsky, probably the real genius in the team. Using infrared stock, elaborate systems of cranes, cables and pulleys, a wide-angle lens and a blindfold (which he would remove shortly before filming to keep his eye fresh) Urusevsky conjured a fluid, floating dream of Cuba – and a unique aesthetic experience decades ahead of its time.
Screening on 35mm courtesy Milestone Films
"A classic… absolutely astonishing! I Am Cuba is that rarity of rarities, a genuine hidden treasure. It puts to shame anything we’re doing today." Martin Scorsese
"One of the most deliriously beautiful films ever made." Manohla Dargis, LA Weekly
"Some of the most exhilarating camera movements and most luscious black-and-white cinematography you’ll ever see." Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader