I’m still wrestling with my feelings about the latest vacation craze to visit Cuba like it’s a new theme park. To an extent, I think most Cubans are, if they’re not already on the traditional side of “hell no, America shouldn’t go.” But much of what I’ve brushed up against outside my Cuban community is still riddled with stereotypes. The cigars, the Scarface accent, you name it I’m probably over it.
One silver lining I’ve found are folks who are genuinely interested in the culture, art and history of Cuba. There’s the cynical side of me that first saw Cuba: Golden 60s, BAM’s programming of post-Revolution Cuban films, as another bid to ride the Cuban vacation craze, but I softened. So many of the films are ones I had never seen among my parents’ and grandparents’ collection of poor quality bootlegged movies smuggled from the island.
I am Cuba (Soy Cuba) is a lovely composed postcard of various old Cuban landmarks: the nightclubs, rural countryside and city life. It captures Cuba’s haves and have nots in a period of transition, close to the start of Castro’s regime. But I always feel the director’s outsider point of view when watching Soy Cuba. The way the camera gawks at people is a compositional choice that doesn’t make me feel that I’m among my people. It makes me feel like I’m watching someone else’s culture, not my own. Its distancing lens is an artful landmark, but not one I’ve felt emotionally attached to. This wasn’t how my family saw Cuba.
And since Cuba is almost always equated to old cars and crumbling bright buildings, I adore the hell out of Lucía because this movie takes place in different eras of Cuban history. Spanning the course of 70 years, our three different protagonists, all named Lucía, must overcome different eras of oppression in order to survive. It’s unapologetically feminist despite its historical drama background. Lucía is a more classically narrative film than I am Cuba, but rather episodic since the movie jumps from the 1890s, 1930s and 1950s. It’s also the first film to play in the BAM series.
The rest of the films are sadly ones I have not seen. The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin is a comedic movie about the misadventures of a boy growing into adulthood. Memories of Underdevelopment follows a bourgie couple learning to live under communism. There’s a shorts program from director Santiago Alvarez, as well as another historical drama, The First Charge of the Machete that’s filmed in cinéma vérité style. I’m sure you can guess what Death of a Bureaucrat is about.
I will try to go to as many of these as I can, and I encourage folks reading this to do the same. In my years of attending repertory programming, I haven’t seen a lineup focused on ‘60s Cuban cinema quite like this. I hope that NYC cinephiles will take the chance on the rich Cuban film history to check out something beyond I am Cuba, which is typically the only answer I hear when I ask about Cuban movies. Heaven forbid someone answers me that Scarface was a Cuban film ever again.
Here is a peak at some of the films from the series…
This post originally appeared on film critic Monica Castillo’s tumblr and was republished with permission.
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov | 1964
This retina-dazzling agitprop masterwork is Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov’s delirious dream vision of the Cuban revolution, in which the Felliniesque decadence of Batista-era Havana gives way to the explosion of Castro’s guerrilla uprising. A head-spinning mix of Constructivist aesthetics and sensuous photography, I Am Cuba pulses with “some of the most exhilarating camera movements and most luscious black-and-white cinematography you’ll ever see.” (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)
Directed by Humberto Solás | 1968
Three eras of Cuban history — the 1890s, 1930s, and 1960s — are depicted via the stories of three different women, all strong-willed heroines named Lucía, who rise up against various forms of subjugation. Employing a distinct style for each episode, this trailblazing feminist manifesto is “easily the finest film to come out of Cuba in the 60s… Way ahead of its time in linking sexual and political oppression.” (Time Out London)
Memories of Underdevelopment
Directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea | 1968
The first post-revolution Cuban film to gain international acclaim is a breathlessly inventive portrait of an alienated bourgeois intellectual (Corrieri) coming to terms with life under Communism — as those around him flee and the missile crisis hovers tensely in the background. Cannily employing montage, still photos, and documentary footage, this stylistic tour-de-force espouses a surprisingly ambivalent attitude toward the changes wrought by the revolution.
Cuba: Golden 60s runs March 20 — 31 at the BAM Rose Cinemas. Visit bam.org/film for showtimes.