Make no mistake—1964's Soy Cuba is about as anti-America a propaganda film as there has ever been, but Russian director and cinematographer Mikhail Kalatozov's vision of a post-Missile Crisis Cuba is shot so beautifully, it's sometimes hard to absorb the actual contents of the four disparate vignettes set on the island nation. Now, completely remastered in 4K resolution with the assist from America's own cinematic legends Scorsese and Coppola, audiences have the first chance to see the film since its last wide-ish cinematic foray in 1995.
Kalatozov takes us from the dizzying highs of a Havana rooftop bikini-off to the lowest, darkest corners of the filthiest slums; the disgusting Americans who loudly take what they want; the poverty-stricken farmer whose land is sold out from under him. Revolutionary students take to the streets to vie for Castro, women forced into prostitution sell their faith, and the shadow of the US-backed Batista looms over everything like some omnipresent boogeyman we're meant to hate.
And so we do. Oddly, or perhaps just as it was intended, Soy Cuba begins to sway us—or at least make us understand. Besides, Americans are loud and boorish and easy to hate. Why did we hate Cuba for so long anyway?
Besides, Kalatozov's technical prowess is undeniable, particularly in shots that descend sheer towers or pan through windows then soar over citizen-packed city streets without even the hint of a cut. How such shots were possible so cleanly in 1964 is anyone's guess, but Soy Cuba is rumored to have had an astronomical budget from its joint government backers in Cuba and Russia. The film was near-universally reviled at the time of its release and has largely remained unseen, save now and again when it's pulled out and pointed to as a historically relevant time capsule. Which it is, of course, and evocatively so, even if it lags toward the middle.
As a cinematic accomplishment, Soy Cuba is astonishing and utterly gorgeous. As a propaganda flick, it's chilling to think of the particulars of the era. Still, it's a cinephile's dream laid out in impossibly crisp black and white and a significant must for any film or history buffs.
+A cinematographic powerhouse; weirdly hard to look away
-So needlessly long; subtext pretty much becomes text
Directed by Kalatozov
The Screen, NR, 108 min.