I Am Cuba (1964)

Sculpted Spatial Force

Is this the best film ever made? For me today in its afterglow it is.

I’m so fickle. I think if all else were equal, I’ll always take embodied, real cinema that is coherently integrated. The way of telling the story is ideally complex and folded, using tricks to make the story matter. But if the storytelling is less spectacular, as long as the thing engages, that’s what matters. If it changes me, its art and important, regardless of whether I can tell a good story about the storytelling.

That’s the way I prefer. But sometimes the storytelling is so spectacular, so engaging in itself, that it doesn’t matter what the story is. These are rare, because after all, you need the touch to change your life. So a filmmaker as unsophisticated and unattractive as, say Elia Kazan, can modify my existence when partnered with Williams and Brando.

And this story… what is conveyed here is mostly lies. Or rather it is a target story that is transparently bankrupt. It is based on an embodied reality of sorts. But its a twisted vision. The racism is palpable. The superiority of the European eye and mind are overwhelming. The simple notion of good and evil is less nuanced than in Star Wars or its precendent westerns, and is intolerable. (This may be simply because history advises that both the Soviet and Cuban experiments were more brutal than what they replaced.)

But what cinema! What life! Just inhabiting this world has adjusted my imagination and dreams. The focus is usually on the extraordinary flying camera, because its so obvious, striking. It is, and if it were just that, I would still get you out of bed and across town to see this. But the flying eye is integrated with an architectural expression that is far deeper. The actors and camera move through buildings, fire, smoke, cane, trees, exploding dirt. This is as amazing the first time, just in wondering how they did it. Knowing the technology used, it seems impossible, and that knowledge actually distracts. You have to see this several times to just get past the wonder at the talking dog.

Then you can get into the visual poetry of thing. It isn’t about people at all. They matter not at all except as fodder for ennobling posters. What matters is the structure of the forces that surround and channel them here and there like turbulent banks. This is a project centred on those forces, incarnated as spatial forces. Where in another project you wonder how a dog can be so dramatic, here you wonder how the director was able to control fire and smoke to be so perfectly compliant. It is not embodied in the story, which is daft, but in the real world that contains it.

This is absolutely in the spirit of Tarkovsky, and is the only film I know that betters him visually. Its less human, but oh so spatial. You must, must see it.

Ted’s Evaluation — 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.

IMDB

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