Friday, 9 December 2011

#12 Cuba — Soy Cuba (1964)

Why I Chose This: Cinematography is one of my greatest loves in the world of cinema. After seeing many state that Soy Cuba has the best cinematography of any film they've seen, I was instantly interested in seeing it.

After watching so many pictures and seeing so many cinematic techniques near perfected over a number of films, it is rare to see something which truly makes one re-discover the magical nature of cinema. Soy Cuba is a work which not only made me embrace the magic, but also changed how I look at cinema.

The cinematography in Soy Cuba reminds me of a quote I once read from Werner Herzog regarding Fitzcarraldo. In it, he says that even children nowadays can tell if something has been computer generated or digitally tampered with, but when the boat is dragged up that hill, you know it's real and are witnessing something special. The same is true here; the shots aren't digitally put together like in Children of Men, or cuts hidden behind peoples backs as in Rope (as impressive as both those films are), these are real, and that gives them a power like no other.

The camera seems as much a part of the world as the characters themselves, and displays empathy towards them. In the club dance scene, the camera flows delicately around the room with the soulful singer, before tossing around chaotically along side the empassioned and confused bar dancer. Perhaps the most impressive shot is during the funeral scene, where the camera climbs up a building, crosses the street in the air into the window of a cigar factory, travels the length of the room and back out into the street where it delicately floats above the proceedings.

Every shot is beautifully composed on top of the acrobatic movements. Frames of sugar cane fields, waterfalls and cloudy landscapes are like warm chocolate for the eyes. The extensive use of dutched shots adds to the dreamlike quality of the shots, contrasting with the harsh reality of the content.

The story is split into four vignettes, each attacking Batista's Cuba or glorifying the Cuban Revolution. The first is about a girl named Maria who lives in a shanty town and hopes to marry her fruit-selling boyfriend. Due to Batista's rule, nothing can save them from starvation except becoming a bar dancer and drug dealer respectively.

The second story concerns an old sugar cane farmer who's harvest is the best in years. During the harvest, he is told that his land has been sold to a fruit corperation and that he must leave.

The first two sections are both heart-breaking, sincere and very human. The viewer connects with the characters after a short period of time and feels for their plight. The next two, however, are more obviously politically minded and feature very heavy-handed messages about the revolution and Batista's rule. Since this is primarily a propaganda film, this is to be expected, but it may impact some audiences opinions of it somewhat.

In the penultimate story, a student becomes a martyr for the cause after him and his friends get very involved in the revolution. Although the content is not as compelling as the first two stories, some of the scenes are incredibly visceral and the cinematography especially excellent.

A small family in the mountains where the rebels are fighting are the focus of the concluding section. After their home is bombed by the current government, the father takes up arms to protect his wife and children.

Although the political message is about as subtle as a Michael Bay film, Soy Cuba is perhaps the most visually stunning work I have witnessed. If you can stand being beat about the face with communism for a few hours for the sake of hypnotically beautiful art, then this is a film for you. If not, maybe try The Cranes Are Flying instead.

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