I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba)(1964) Director: Mikhail Kalatozov;
I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) is an amazing film that shows us four stories that portray life in Cuba. Before and after each story, a female narrator tells us some thoughts about Cuba and unforgettably says, "I am Cuba" with regard to the story about to be or just presented. As a country, Cuba didn't have an easy time with oppressors and poverty that shaped its people. The movie captures the spirit of Cuba and the hardships it endured.
The movie has one of the best and captivating openings I ever saw. In addition to the stories being interesting, the camera work is remarkable and contributes to the metaphor of capturing the spirit of Cuba. The camera smoothly floats without bounds like a spirit around the vibrant scene. In addition to the great opening, the cameras continue to impress and float spirit-like periodically. The movie flows with artistic beauty and places us in a trance between the sights and sounds (as the music is very much part of the culture itself).
All of the stories have an element of anti-American sentiment, which shouldn't be a surprise. Regardless of one's own view of communism the movie allows us to learn about the people and culture of Cuba. The first two stories are more about the injustices and abuses of power that come with capitalism; the last two stories are about events that shape revolutionaries and how they are trying to right the injustices. All in all, I am Cuba is captivating and is sure to please those who enjoy artistic world cinema.
Lucia(1968) Director: Humberto Solas;
"Lucia" is a Cuban film about three women that all share the same name. They live in different time periods but they share some a few things in common. All of the stories are essentially love stories but not the type that could be considered a storybook romance with the happy ending. With each story, the class Lucia belongs in decreases, with the first Lucia being in the upper class to the final Lucia being in the working class. Also, revolutionaries affect all of the women and we learn a bit about Cuban history along the way.
The first story, and my favorite one, takes place in 1865. The revolution is against Spain and our Lucia wants to meet the man of her dreams but he turns out to have a sinister side. I thought this one had it all -- as there was romance, intrigue, and action, all the while being beautiful, tragic and intense. There are also a few surprises that keep me in suspense.
The second story takes place in 1932 and of course is about revolutionaries. This time Lucia has a boy friend that is part of a group of adamant revolutionaries. This story was my least favorite of the three and I thought the point was to show that even when revolutionaries win the war, things could all go back to being just like they were very easily. It is possible that this story was just setting up that message for the final story.
The last story is set in the 1960s. The revolution is over and Lucia will be faced with a challenge that may not be new but one that is less socially acceptable at this point in history. Lucia meets a man and gets married but he ends up being overly protective and controlling. Lucia is locked up in her own home and her husband doesn’t want her to have any guests when he isn’t there to supervise, including her own mother. Oil is thrown into the fire when a young man is sent to their home to teach Lucia to read.
Although this movie has three distinct stories because the stories merge into a common theme and it runs over two and a half hours in length it has the feeling of an epic. There are many messages in this film but the one that stands out is that it shows as much as things change with time, some things stay exactly the same (we see women gossiping in 1865 and in the 1960s their chatter is no different). I would say "Lucia" is a movie that could easy fit the description of masterpiece.
Memories of Under Development (Memorias del subdesarrollo)(1968) Director: Tomas Gutierrez Alea;
Memories of Under Development is a movie about a man named Sergio who is recently divorced. It tells us his story but also the story of his country Cuba. It goes back and forth between these two, illuminating us on the story of how the people he knows in Cuba are "underdeveloped" and how the country itself, made up of such people, is in a way "underdeveloped" too. Even with that said it isn't a harsh critic of people but more of a mild one and perhaps a bit of self-criticism as well.
Sergio thinks most of the people he knows are underdeveloped. His ex-wife and parents have left Cuba to go to the United States, and he doesn't mind, in fact he nearly pities them and this movie shows us why. He is artistic and thinks of himself as Europeanized, thus more advanced than others on some level but he doesn't gloat about it or show off. Sergio is a little cynical but maybe he is realistic also. Best if all, at times he is very funny.
The film mixes video footage and still photography that tells us about Cuba and life there. It sheds light on how the country was influenced by Spain, the United States and the Soviet Union. One has to also give it some credit as the film doesn't create an entirely a rosy portrait of the Cuban government under Castro and shows how the wealthy had their property confiscated.
The way the story in Memories of Under Development blends personal history with the history of a country works well. If you enjoy art house films or have interest in learning about Cuba, I would say it is worth checking out Memories of Under Development.
Strawberries and Chocolate (Fresa y chocolate)(1994) Director: Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio ;
Strawberries and Chocolate is a film about the friendship between two men. David and Diego make an odd couple and are opposites in many ways. David is a college student full of ideals but lacks in maturity. David is also a communist studying political science but has a love for literature. Diego is flamboyant homosexual that is sophisticated and a bit cunning. Diego strikes up the friendship but David hesitantly accepts it because he is heterosexual.
We really do not know much of David other than from the opening sequence in which he promises to wait to have sex to his girlfriend until after marriage but she jilts him shortly later. David expects Diego to do something similar and not make advances on him. So the story is about putting aside sexuality and just being friends, accepting someone for who they are. Their common interests bring them together and both teach each other about life.
The story doesn't have too many characters and is fairly simple yet the way the film explores unlikely friendship is amazing. Strawberries and Chocolate is a Cuban film so for those who are not familiar with Cuba may find this movie a bit exotic just because of this (and there are a few parts with love spells and fortune telling). I think the acting is great and the story should appeal to those who like dramas.
Sons of Cuba(2009) Director: Andrew Lang;
Everyone loves a champion. One doesn't roll out of bed being a champion, but rather it takes hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Sons of Cuba is an amazing documentary about three boys who devote their time training to be world-class boxers. The story is compelling because it is about kids that are working hard for their dreams; we see their disappointments and triumphs as they try to push themselves to greatness.
This movie primarily focuses on three of the boys at the boxing academy in Havana. Keep in mind, these boys are under twelve so their commitment is really pretty incredible. The boys include Christian (whose father was a prize winning boxer so he has a lot to live up to), Santos (who likes to eat and therefore has trouble keeping his weight down) and Junior (who was formerly in a ballet school and is considered too gentle on his opponents in the ring by his coach).
Sons of Cuba also gives us a look at the political inculcation the boys are exposed to during their training. School children saluting the image of Che and the frequent use of the term "comrade" can be a bit eye opening. Although I do not think this movie is a propaganda piece by any means as it shows things as they are and lets us decide what to think. We also get to see their reactions to a couple of emotional events (Fidel Castro handing over power to his brother and the news of three boxers defecting).
The movie does a lot in 90 minutes; we get to know the boys and their families, we see how hard their coach pushes them and get a glimpse of what it is like living in Cuba. Without a doubt, the story is emotional and just about everyone in this movie cries at some point (and it just may make you cry too). After seeing how serious these boys take their sport, there is little wonder why Cuba has a reputation for having the best Olympic boxers in the world.
Although Sons of Cuba was made by the British director Andrew Lang, he captures the essence of Cuba so well that one would never know he was an outsider. Everything in the movie seems like it is just a recording of the way things really are and nothing was staged. The story flows in a way that we truly get the feeling we know these boys and their coach, making us truly want to know how their lives turn out.