Monday, November 12, 2012

Look On! I Am Cuba as Castro nears

(Look On! takes occasional note of noteworthy productions)

Mikhail Kalatozov's Soviet-Cuban film Soy Cuba – in English, I Am Cuba – was forgotten following its release in 1964. Unpopular both in Cuba and in the Soviet Union, the film only gained wide release in the 1990s.
Kalatozov's black-and-white film combines a number of short stories to give a picture of pre-revolutionary Cuba.
Maria, a young Cuban woman who works as a prostitute is exploited by the rich Americans who use Cuba as a playground of casinos and jazz clubs. Pedro, a farmer, is told that his land has been sold to United Fruit and that he must leave. He sets his crop alight and dies from the smoke fumes.
The film then moves to Havana where students organise against the tyranny of President Fulgencio Batista. The students are killed by the police forces – summarily executed – in the run-up to Fidel Castro's landing. The final scenes deal with the fighting in the Sierra Maestra.
Soy Cuba is an important work to include within the 'human rights film diary' for a number of reasons:
► First, it illustrates some of the conditions which bring about revolution – the inequality in wealth both within the country and also globally. The film therefore raises questions about the role of tourists and their responsibility for the inequalities and human rights abuses which take place.
► Secondly, the story of United Fruit is part of a larger story of US imperialism in the region.
► Thirdly, as a 'propaganda' piece, financed by the USSR, the film is interesting not only in terms of cinematography, but also in its depiction of Cuba and 'Cubans'.
► Finally, the film talks directly about 'rights' and the abuse thereof.
In the final scene, a radio transmission calls for all Cubans who have suffered injustice and the violations of their rights to join the revolution – to defend the right to life, the right to health, the right of families to a home and the right to work. The transmission calls to peasants, students and workers to fight for liberty.
Soy Cuba is a romanticised retrospective on the coming of a revolution.

(Cross-posted at Human Rights Film Diary blog)

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