It takes only minutes to make two very accurate conclusions about Soy Cuba. The first thing that should be noticed is just how stunning the cinematography is for a film this old. Before the advent of the steadycam harnesses and complex camera rigs it is rare to see such masterful direction of the camera. Mikhail Kalatozov, along with the Soviet and Cuban governments, sought to tell the story of everyday people rebelling against the tyranny of the Batista Regime and capitalism.
Evaluating the effectiveness, accuracy, and ultimately the historical value of Soy Cuba presents a difficult challenge. It is not unreasonable to presume that American viewers would assume that Kalatozov managed to create a film that would have been successful in Castro’s Cuba and the USSR. The film is beautiful, has four well told chapters, strong acting, and overt sympathy for the communist cause. For those who have not studied the film in the past, it is important to note that Soy Cuba was poorly received in both countries. Cubans found the Russian’s understanding of Cuban culture lacking while the Soviet population somehow found it lacking in revolutionary appeal. This alone makes evaluation of Kalatozov’s final product difficult. It is obvious that his film did not find resonance with the national identity of Cubans or the perceptions held within the USSR.
Unfortunately, Soy Cuba offers little value as an accurate period piece. It is inherently a propaganda film, which at best is ignorant, and at worst revisionist. It is nearly impossible to take a film which can at one moment abhor violence and the next glorify it. While Soy Cuba was not incorrect in portraying Batista’s Cuba as a corrupt American playground, it obvious inability to attempt an objective portrayal is exhausting.
Many posts have noted Soy Cuba’s accurate representation of the playboy Americans, greedy capitalist, and harsh security officer. Soy Cuba is not incorrect in criticizing these figures, as they certainly existed. Where Soy Cuba looses its validity is how absolute and self-righteous it is. Anyone who knows the history of the Kulaks should have been laughing at the Soviet portrayal of the old farmer burning his sugar-cane. The harsh measures used by Soviet and Cuban security forces were almost a mirror image of the Batista regime. There are countless other examples of how this film falls into the illegitimacy of propaganda.
If there is to be historical value found within the film, this value would be centered around the idiocy of propaganda. It is a dangerous tool used by all governments, and when presented as historical truth its damage to the untrained mind can be catastrophic. Soy Cuba is a masterpiece when it comes to the art of film. But outside its technical merits, there is very little of value.