Saturday, January 27, 2007

Soy Cuba at the Ritzy

It’s better in the matinee, sing Franz Ferdinand in the CD I found a few months ago on my street. It’s definitely cheaper, in the Ritzy’s World Cinema Matinee, £2.50 only. A good day to cycle south to Brixton: the sun was shining in my face. I sat outside in the little square in front of the library with the drunks and the rastas, enjoying the yellow thing in the sky and eating the vegetarian sushi I skipped last night from Pret. Then I went inside the cinema to watch Soy Cuba.

Made by Mikhael Kalatozishvilli in 1964, this film is the story of Cuba at the time of revolution. Pathetic, poignant, and strangely beautiful, it’s Soviet avant-garde in a Caribbean settings; like Dziga Vertov on pina collada, Eisenstein after a hot day in a sugar plantation. The dialectical approach is still there, and so are the strange angles, but not the 1920s hectic montage, built on shock and surprise; Soy Cuba is dreamlike realism, and the camera movement is much slower and more lyrical, leading the way to Tarkovsky.

In the first act, we see degenerate Cuba through its sleazy bars full of rich Yankees and poor pretty prostitutes. As you may have guessed, women feature predominantly as a vehicle to explore notions of seduction, violation and redemption; gender/race is always a good way to examine socialist/radical films, to look beyond the surface propaganda. Soy Cuba is not the only film where the director’s fascination with the female body and with blackness runs counter the supposed progressive message of the film. Strangely, the camera assumes the point of view of the American businessman, stranded in a shanty town, desperately trying to find his way out; as if the audience is most likely to identify with him.

Next Act, a poor farmer is told that his sugar cane field and his little shack were sold to United Fruit ltd, and that he has to leave. He burns his house and crops, he goes mad, he dies; the camera moves backwards, upwards, and the narrator, a woman’s voice:

I am Cuba

Sometimes I think that my Royal Palms were watered with blood

Sometimes I think that the sea around me was created by people’s tears

Who is to answer for all the blood,

Who is to answer for all the tears?

United Fruits are now rebranded as Chiquita. Their stickers, like Del Monte's and other agro-empires, are on the bananas I find in the market every week: I know the end of the story. With Fidel’s condition deteriorating, soon they may all be able to return to Cuba, the agro-corporations and the rich men in suits. On the way out I looked at the audience, that random collection of matinee viewers, bag-ladies, pensioners and students. Revolution anyone? Better go home to my leek and potato soup.

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