Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

I Am Cuba (1964)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

I Am Cuba (1964, Soviet Union/Cuba) (aka Soy Cuba, or Я-Куба)

In Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov's long-forgotten and rarely-seen cinematic work about the Cuban Revolution (and the final days of the Batista regime) - composed of an episodic series of four short stories or vignettes about the Cuban people on the exotic Caribbean island, politically-supported by the Soviet Union; the pro-Castro, propagandistic (agitprop) film was a joint venture of Mosfilm, the Soviet film studio, and Cuba's ICAIC, the new state film enterprise:

  • the female-voiced narrator (Raquel Revuelta) who broke into the storyline - known as "The Voice of Cuba" (in the credits), with verses beginning: "I am Cuba"
  • the bravura lengthy opening sequence with inventive and fluid camera-work, featuring a hand-held camera filming with a long continuous take - across Havana rooftops (including views of affluent American tourists and bikini-clad beauties strolling high up on an outdoor fashion runway platform as they were voted upon by applause and photographed, and entertained by rock 'n' roll musicians) - and then the camera descended to another roof-top and its swimming pool where other US tourists were lounging, sunbathing, being served drinks, playing cards, etc. - and without a cut, the camera ducked underwater into the pool (after following one of the bikinied brunettes into the water) - it was a decadent example of an American-run gambling casino-hotel in the heart of Batista's Havana - its skyline seen on the horizon
  • the first episode: Cuban Maria/"Betty" (Luz María Collazo) - a bar prostitute wearing a chic black dress, was picked up by Jim (Jean Bouise) - an insensitive, wealthy American tourist in a seedy and smoky nightclub; he was taken to her broken-down, seaside, one-room shack for the night; the next morning, her fruit-seller boyfriend Rene was dismayed when he realized his mistreated, innocent fiancee was a hooker going by the name of Betty; as Jim fled, he had to wind his way through the maze of alleyways and shacks: "I am Cuba. Why are you running away? You came here to have fun. Go ahead, have fun! Isn't this a happy picture! Don’t avert your eyes. Look! I am Cuba. For you, I am the casino, the bar, hotels and brothels. But the hands of these children and old people are also me"
  • the second episode: tenant-farmer peasant Pedro (José Gallardo) learned that he had been evicted from his land, and that his sugar cane crop had been sold by his greedy, co-opted landlord Senor Acosta to the US United Fruit Company; frustrated and despairing, he set fire to his field and shack, and perished from smoke inhalation: "I am Cuba. Sometimes it seems to me that the trunks of my palm trees are full of blood. Sometimes it seems to me that the murmuring sounds around us are not the ocean, but choked-back tears. Who answers for this blood? Who is responsible for these tears?"
  • the third (main) episode: liberal, middle-class student revolutionary Enrique (Raúl García) protested against fascist police forces, and was tempted to use a sniper rifle to assassinate the chief of police; he rallied with other friends and workers to demonstrate against the oppressive regime; one radical student broke away from officers during an arrest in an office, and began throwing recently-printed leaflets off a balcony while shouting: "Long Live Freedom!", he was shot in the back and killed, and his body spiraled down to the plaza below; afterwards, as Enrique led a major protest in the plaza to overthrow the system - on the grounds of Havana University (the film scene paid homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925, USSR)), the mob was met with powerful fire hoses; amidst the smoke of burning cars, Enrique became the next martyr for the cause of Castro, when the police chief shot him to death; his Cuban flag-draped body was marched through Havana's streets in a massive cortege by his comrades; in a dazzling one-take shot, the camera rose up from the street level, crossed the street, entered the open window of a cigar-rolling factory and then emerged on the other side of the room above the street and rooftops (where a Cuban flag was unfurled from the window) as the parade of grieving mourners passed below and stretched long into the distance
Third (Main) Episode
  • the fourth episode: peace-loving peasant Mariano was barely surviving in a mountain hut in the area of the Sierra Maestra; after his home and land was bombed by Batista's Air Force and his young son was killed, he was drawn into joining rebel, freedom-fighting guerrillas in the hills led by revolutionary Fidel Castro: "I am Cuba. Your arms have gotten used to farming tools, but now a rifle is in your hands. You are not shooting to kill. You are firing at the past. You are firing to protect your future"

Opening Sequence: Across Havana Rooftops

First Episode

Second Episode


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