I notice I’ve been posting a lot of clips from older films shot in black-and-white. I guess I’m just on that kind of a kick. Here’s something to knock your socks off. True inspiration. Have you ever seen “I Am Cuba”? If not, do so at once!
“I Am Cuba” is a Soviet/Cuban film, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, that was released in 1964. It’s a collection of vignettes that describe Cuba right before the revolution, through the eyes of a prostitute, a sugar cane farmer, a fruit seller, and a rebel student. The cinematography, by Sergei Urusevsky, is some of the most dynamic, evocative, mysterious and gorgeous on the planet. Absolutely masterful. There are some incredible traveling long takes, such as that of the famous opening sequence, in which the camera travels down a river on a boat, and then from a rooftop on which a beauty pageant is being held down to a poolside, and then underwater, into the pool. This kind of stuff only became prevalent when the steadicam was invented over ten years later. The film is way ahead of its time. The really striking thing about the cinematography is the sense of three-dimensional depth we get from the camera movement, accentuated by the use of some very wide-angle lenses. At times, our sense of space is distorted. It’s truly transporting. Also, the faces… There are so many interesting faces in this film. Even though the sound is overdubbed and barely in sync, and the plot occasionally gets a little heavy on the melodrama, those faces are compelling and believable. There is very little dialogue, but little is needed. The story is told through images and sounds - and they are unforgettable.
Here is an early scene in the film, featuring the song “Loco Amor.” It takes place in a nightclub. I wonder if David Lynch saw this when he was growing up? The loud American man reminds me of the character of Frank in “Blue Velvet.” It just goes to show how far ahead of its time this film was.
365 Movies - #17: The Cranes are Flying (1957, Kalatozov)
Beautiful film. The cinematography was off the wall here, a double-header: wonderfully composed shots, and the use of handheld cameras bring the viewer into the mood of each scene. Particularly outstanding is the frenzied search scene as Veronika looks for her love, Boris, who is on the brink of departing for the Red Army in WW2.
I suppose it’s important to note that the film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes that year. The Cranes are Flying marked a significant break in Soviet film history, departing from the prescribed “Socialist Realist” style mandated by Stalin’s “government.” What we’re left with is an honest style of realism; we feel Veronika’s despair when she fails to find Boris to say goodbye.
Screen shot from Mikhail Kalatozov’s THE LETTER NEVER SENT (1959) wherein a group of geologists lose their bearings in the great Siberian expanse. Terrific black and white photography and a moving symphonic score, an allegory for sacrifices made in the name of exploration in the race to space.