Communism is a force for good, liberty, and justice, right?
Written By: Enrique Pineda Barnet & Yevgeni Yevtushenko
Directed By: Mikhail Kalatozov
Propaganda films are a tricky subject, for the filmmakers and the audience. By their very nature propaganda films are one sided, offering an extremely biased take on the given subject. What can elevate a propaganda film above the label of being “just a propaganda film” is the craftsmanship of the people involved with the production. Soy Cuba is a propaganda film, but because of the skill put on display by the director, Mikhail Kalatozov, it is so much more than “just a propaganda film.”
I spent a good portion of my time awed by what I was seeing in Soy Cuba. The film is gorgeous, it easily ranks among the most beautifully filmed movies I have ever seen. But, it’s more than how gorgeous the film is that left me in awe. I had a hard time understanding how in 1964 Gospodin Kalatozov was able to move his camera the way he did. At times his camera floats across surfaces it should not be able to float across. The camera moves in a way that seemed very ahead of its time. Take for instance a moment in the film when the camera scales up and down the side of a building in a downtown setting. I don’t know how Gospodin Kalatozov was able to get his camera to travel up and down the building like he did. But, the camera doesn’t just travel up and down the building, it floats across the building like some kind of ethereal being.
Soy Cuba is full of moments of stunning beauty, so many moments that the film easily transcends its propaganda nature. Gospodin Kalatozov’s film is one sided, it is a film about the glory of Communism and the perils of democracy. But, it is a luscious film, as pleasing to the eyes as any film one is likely to come across. The story is thin, but it’s very dream like in a way that suits the visuals. We float from vignette to vignette much like how the camera floats from scene to scene. At the same time there are very tense moments within Soy Cuba’s run time. One such intense sequence involves a man on a building with a sniper rifle. As his scope roams over the cityscape, and we see from the viewpoint of said scope, it is clear how much power the sniper holds. Each second that his scope passes over buildings and people is a second filled with an intensity not found in most action movies.
The narrative in Soy Cuba is lacking, the point that Communism is so much better than democracy is old hat after the first half hour or so. Still, the amazing visuals of Soy Cuba make up for any story deficiencies. I’d recommend Soy Cuba as a cultural oddity, but I’d highly recommend it as a visual spectacle. Movies that are as wondrously filmed as Soy Cuba are a rarity, and this is one rarity that is well worth seeing.