Full issue here: http://eye.columbiaspectator.com/issues/B_02-12-09.pdf
Cigars and Cinema
Films that open a new dialogue about Cuba
An elderly woman returns home to her childhood sweetheart after fifty years, vowing her undying love with a fiery zeal—then promptly, and somewhat hilariously, dies. A student rebel holds a white dove in his hands, walking ceremoniously through the streets of
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the revolution in
It would be an understatement to say that Cuban-American relations since the revolution in 1958 have remained tense—famed exploding cigars and the
This weekend’s choice is a Cuban-Soviet collaboration from 1964: Soy Cuba (I am Cuba), a cinematographic marvel that film critic J. Hoberman called “a Bolshevik hallucination.” Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov and with a script by famed Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Soy Cuba is probably one of the most poetic works of propaganda ever. It describes the state of Cuba during the days leading up to the revolution, using four beautifully-shot vignettes to spin a tale about the lives of four selfless working-class citizens oppressed by the nationalist (and Americanized) regime. At its release, Cuban and Soviet officials considered Soy Cuba to be “ineffective propaganda” and the film was barely released. Soy Cuba remained relatively unknown until the 1990s, when Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese rediscovered it. Though clearly glorifying communism, it is also both an enticing tale and a marvel of filmmaking. The acrobatic camera and clear black-and-white footage of endless cane sugar plantations, fires, and sweeping shots of the city are impressive even by today’s standards.
An American film, Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls, gives an alternate perspective on
The dreamlike film puts panoramic shots of nature in the forefront and combines them with Bardem’s voiceover narration. Before Night Falls is a film about sexual and political revolutions: it begins with Arenas as a preteen during the 1958 revolution, which he initially supports, and follows with his personal sexual liberation. Linking sex to poetry, Arenas grows to detest and fear a government that equates homosexuality to capitalism and mental retardation—a story both fascinating and difficult to stomach.
Not all of the films are quite so serious: Guantanamera, a Cuban film from 1995, is a dark comedy that is as ridiculous and bizarre as it is moving. Directed by Alea and Tabío, Guantanamera is a satire about love, death, and Cuban society in the 1990s. An aunt visits her niece in