4K UHD Review: I Am Cuba | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

I Am Cuba [4K UHD]

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Apr 22, 2024 Web Exclusive Photography by The Criterion Collection Bookmark and Share

Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964) is a seminal piece of cinematic history and a criminally overlooked film. A production between the USSR and Cuba, the film did not fare well in either country, languishing into obscurity for several decades before a showing of the film at the Telluride Film Festival in 1992 forever changed the trajectory of the film’s impact. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola spearheaded the film’s restoration, and it was given a theatrical re-release, and critical reappraisal, in 1995.

Sixty years after its release, I Am Cuba stands as a landmark film that is both formally audacious and radically political. Across four stories, we follow several inhabitants of Cuba and bear witness to their plight, as an omnipotent narrator (credited as being “the voice of Cuba”) illustrates the state of the country.

The first story centers around a prostitute named Maria and illustrates the contrast between the destitute circumstances of Cuban citizens compared to the lavish and outlandish lifestyle of the upper-class Americans inhabiting the country’s bars and clubs. It is in this sequence that we get the first of many breathtaking and vertiginous tracking shots featured in the film, the first of which begins on a rooftop where a beauty contest is taking place, scaling down the entire building before descending into the swimming pool.

Sergei Urusevsky’s cinematography is arguably some of the most stunning of the 20th century. The visual acrobatics on display throughout the film sublimely shape our perception of the events that occur. Similar to Urusevsky’s work on Kalatozov’s 1957 Palme d’Or winner The Cranes Are Flying, the camera is almost a character itself, giving the film an intrinsically rebellious personality.

The film is full of bravura long takes, in which the camera whips and pans around the given environment, exploring the crevices of each situation it finds itself in. Perhaps the most well-known moment in the film is a funeral procession in the third story, where the body of a university student is carried through the streets as the camera continuously tracks up a building, passes through a window, and finally hovers above the streets as thousands of protesters march along with the Cuban flag.

Interestingly, once the film was completed, many crew members weren’t satisfied with the final product. In the feature-length Brazilian documentary included within Criterion’s physical release, I Am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth (dir. Vicente Ferraz), several crew members complained that they found the film’s use of voiceover to be overbearing, and that the film’s image preceded its content. It would take the collapse of the USSR for the film to finally be seen again, and from then, a newfound appreciation for this revolutionary behemoth would emerge.

Criterion’s new, 4K edition of this extraordinary film also features perspectives from directors Bradford Young and Martin Scorsese, who imbue their own personal experiences of what the film means to them along with noting the cultural significance it has held over the past half century. I Am Cuba is a Molotov cocktail of a film that demands to be seen for its bombastic depiction of a country on the brink of revolution. For cinephiles who haven’t seen I Am Cuba, you owe yourself the opportunity to see one of the most freewheeling, rebellious films ever made in stunning 4K.



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