I Am Cuba
off-list movie of 1964 is “I Am Cuba” (“Soy Cuba”). This movie was recommended
to me (thanks Bea!) particularly for the camera work and that is also the main
draw of the movie.
“I am Cuba”
is a propaganda movie in support of the Cuban revolution. This had taken place
just a few years before and I suppose the Cuban revolutionary leadership felt a
need to justify and celebrate their take over. At this time, having kicked out
American interests, Cuba was isolated and had turned toward the Soviet Union
for support, and this included a Russian film crew with very good credentials.
led by Mikhail Kalatozov, were already famous for their filming techniques and
their tracking shot, super-wide angle close ups and super sharp infrared shots
were perfected on Cuba. This makes “I Am Cuba” very interesting from a
technical point of view. It also lifts what would otherwise be ham-fisted
propaganda into something more easily digestible.
That is of
course the problem with any propaganda movie. There is a very clear intent and
that intent must be perceived by even the densest and illiterate viewer. This
tends to make propaganda movies very one-dimensional to the extent of
oversimplifying the issues and they easily appear stupid. “I Am Cuba” tries to
walk that balance. Sometimes it works, sometimes it plumbs into the propaganda
traps, but even in the worst moments the cinematography saves it.
There is no
over-all story, but rather four vignettes with that in common that they all
relate to the revolution.
is about rich Americans flouting their money and corrupting the local
population. Obviously, the intent is to make the Americans look like assholes
and it is difficult not to be upset at the difference between the upscale
tourist sites and the slums.
The second features
a poor farmer who works his sugarcane plot with his children. His hard, but
rewarding, labor is interrupted when the landowner shows up to tell him he sold
the land to United Fruit so he can piss off. The farmer sees his livelihood
stripped away in an eyeblink and in desperation sets everything to the torch.
in Havana, we follow Enrique, a student presumably, who first saves a lady in
distress from brutish American navy-men, then joins a demonstration against the
corrupt government only to be shot down as a martyr.
farmer family in a remote, rebel controlled area gets bombed, killing one of
the children in what I consider a huge cinematic faux-pas (you do not kill
children in movies!). As a result, the husband joins the revolution, marching
towards a glorious victory over the evil capitalists with a lot of flag-waving.
It is a
movie with no grey zones, no room for doubt, there are the good guys, the
revolutionary, and the bad guys, the corrupt elite backed by America. It is a
simple choice between joining the revolution or being screwed over. As a viewer
suffering hardships it is an effective movie that serves its propagandistic
purpose and even as a neutral viewer I sit back thinking that if I lived in
such a divisive and corrupt country I would not find it hard to place my
sympathies, even if I cannot approve of the means to the end.
model is a little different. In 1849 a group of civilians representing the
population (male and bourgeois, admittedly) got an audience with the king and
demanded constitutional monarchy and parliamentary rule to which the king
answered “okay” (in 1849 wording) and on June 5th we celebrate the
founding law (Grundloven) of 1849. Not a single shot fired.
“I am Cuba” can be a hard swallow and the killing of a child in the end was
awful, but the photography alone makes this a remarkable movie and it deserves
interest for this reason alone. I could see it replace a few movies in 1964.
This next movie
on the List, Gertrud, is a Danish movie and it is not a special entry on the
Danish version, but a real bona fide official List entry. I should be excited.
reason this movie is on the list is not because is absolutely awesome, but
because it was made by Carl Th. Dreyer, one of those directors the List editors
are nuts about. He did make both “Jeanne d’Arc” and “Ordet”, but sadly “Gertrud”
is not in the same league.
character Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is married to the successful lawyer Gustav
Kanning (Bendt Rothe) around the turn of the century. Gertrud is unhappy in her
marriage and wants to leave her husband. This comes as a surprise to him, just
before he is to be named a member of the prime minister’s government. He,
correctly, suspects there is another man in Gertrud’s life.
wants to leave her husband because she requires 100% commitment in love. Love
for her cannot be shared with love for work and as her husband cares about his
work Gertrud is disappointed. She has found a young lover, a composer (Baard
Owe) with whom she imagines she has found love. Except Erland, as is his name,
does not take it anywhere as serious as she does and is taken aback when she
declares she has left her husband for him. Needless to say this is not good
enough for Gertrud.
Gertrud meets up with an old flame Gabriel Lidman (Ebbe Rode, Nina Pens real
life husband), a famous poet, who wants to mend things and get back with her,
but Gertrud is refusing. Back when they where together she had found a
frustrated note from him that seemed to prove that he could not commit 100% to
her, so, too bad, that train has gone. Instead Gertrud grows old alone.
There are a
number of issues with this movie. The most immediate one is the style of acting
(and filming for that matter). In a typical scene you would have two people
talking to each other but looking away in opposite directions. The speak would
be slow, cold and artificial as if they were robots. It is actually funny, at
least in the beginning, because the topics and the words are very honest and
intimate and so at odds with the delivery. I found myself laughing a number of
times, especially in a priceless scene in the beginning where Gertrud and
Gustav are having one of these cold and stilted conversation only to be broken
by a doorbell and Gustav breaking the style by exclaiming “Årh for pokker, det
er mamy!” (“Dammit, that’s my mother!). I was in tears.
No, as the
movie wears on, this style gets very old. Gertrud is the carrier of the style,
whenever she speaks she turns into a robot and being the main character, she is
in almost every scene.
issue is the theme. I believe we are supposed to sympathize with Gertrud in her
search for 100% commitment to love, but I cannot help being annoyed. Who does
she think she is to monopolize the attention of her men. If it was only that they
should not have other women I could well understand that, but Gertrud do not
want to share her men’s passion with anything, work, hobbies anything. She
demands complete attention and commitment. To me that sounds like a prison, an
impossible romantic dream far removed from reality.
Add to this
that Gertrud is about as unattractive as possible. Her cold demeanor, her
rejective attitude and ghost like appearance, but most of all her complete lack
of understanding of her men and it becomes almost comical that they should
desire her so much.
despite, or maybe because, of all this I smiled and laughed a lot more than I
had anticipated. When Axel Strøbye appears as Axel Nygren I am all smiles. He
is (together with Ole Thestrup) my favorite Danish Actor and not even Dreyer
can curb this wonderful actor.
honestly say I liked this movie. I understand what it is trying to do, but I do
not sympathize with the idea. I could not care less about Gertrud, the woman,
but this is also a case of art going so far in being arty that it becomes comedy.
At least for a fellow Dane.
This week I
watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Before the Revolution” (“Prima della rivoluzione”).
I finished a few days ago and have spent the intervening period watching the
extensive extra material that came along with it. The curious thing is that I remember
very little of what actually happened in this movie. Instead what I do recall
are fragment of situations that only barely stick together. In desperation I
checked on Wikipedia for a synopsis, but it only gives me three lines for the
entire story and those three lines pretty much sums up what I do remember. Did
I fall asleep? Not sure. Or did my mind simply drift? It is possible. Or maybe
this is exactly what this movie is.
really bad, but I liked it better than that. There was something compelling
about this movie, something that did feel refreshing even as I got lost in it. Apparently
it adheres to the French New Wave style for better or worse. That does make it
interesting technically, but also means that it gives up on a normal narrative.
As a casual viewer that can be a frustrating experience.
(Francesco Barilli) is a young man, maybe 18 or so years old of the upper
middle class in Parma, Italy. He really wants to be a communist and relate to
the proletariat, but his commitment has some difficulty getting beyond the
academic level. In the beginning he has a conversation with his friend
Agostino, who then dies, drowning in the river. Fabrizio takes this pretty
badly. Then Fabrizio meets his aunt Gina (Adriana Asti), who is ten years older
than Fabrizio, but in many ways act as if she was 5 years younger than him. The
to of them engage in a stormy sexual relationship, but eventually that ends,
and Gina goes back to Milano. Fabrizio gives up on his communist dreams and
marry a girl of his own class.
main characters are of course Fabrizio and Gina and what they share is a deep
confusion of who they are and what to do with their lives. I suppose that is
common enough, most teenagers go through a confusion phase. The special thing
here is how extreme it plays out. Fabrizio feels shackled by the expectations
to him due to his family background and rebels by embracing, trying to embrace,
the opposite position, the communists, though eventually he realizes he is
actually fighting himself. Gina has similar issues embracing the persona she is
supposed to be and shy away from personal responsibility and conventions. Both
are very emotional types who are thrown completely off by their confusion and
maybe it is this that draws them to each other. A sexual relationship with your
10 year older aunt/ 10 year younger nephew is about as anti-convention as it
gets. It is also extremely icky and I had to double check that I had understood
it right that Gina is not some remote acquaintance, but really his aunt! Wow.
of the movie is a bit mysterious. There is a reference to it, that people like
Fabrizio always seems to live the years before the revolution. I am still not
entirely sure what that means, but maybe a reference to the last years of
depravity of the upper class just before, say, the French or the Russian
revolutions, that he feels the push from below that this is wrong. Beyond that
I do not know.
The Book makes
a lot out of that Bertolucci was very young when he made this movie and I
suppose that is remarkable. What that does to the movie is that it makes it
feel young and fresh and that I suppose is a quality of its own.
There is a
part of me who wants to dislike this movie for its lack of narrative, it incestuous
scenes and opaqueness, but mysteriously I found that I actually liked it. Don’t
ask me why, I am still trying to process that. Maybe it is the futile rebelliousness
of youth it portraits, maybe the refreshing style. Or maybe I just want to like
anything Ennio Morricone scores…