This is a film where the camera is constantly in motion, with sweeping balletic long takes, crane and hand held shots, tracking shots, including some over and down the side of buildings, through cane fields, into swimming pools, around packed night clubs, even hovering and moving along high over a street in the middle of a packed funeral procession - all without the usual cutting. I estimate the average length of a take in this film at about 2 - 3 minutes, a figure rare and astonishing these days, even with the benefit of steadicams - but jaw dropping given the still-unwieldy equipment they were surely using in 1964. In particular one or two large scale sequences must have taken days, if not weeks, to prepare, and presumably needed government marshaling to choreograph. (Ironically, whether or not the film makers intended it, the liberated camera work on display here reflects the notion of revolutionary freedom far more than the actual story vignettes.)

The film itself is shot in high contrast gleaming black and white, favouring wide angle lenses, and with a constant deep focus that reminded me of Greg Toland's work for Welles or some of James Wong Howes' work. Kalatozov's use of a handful of character 'types' throughout recalls Eisenstein's (and in fact there is a faint reference to his the Odessa Steps sequence in 'Battleship Potemkin' at one point when the revolutionary rioters march down some steps), but the effect here is far more sensual and lyrical. (Among the professional actors, Sergio Corrieri also appears in the better-known Memories of Underdevelopment). The film's 'artiness' is undeniably a distraction from the message of struggle, and to the original viewers the beautiful images must have been a long way from reality in the New Cuba.


I Am Cuba

Posted on

November 25, 2011