I Am Cuba – Criterion UHD Blu-ray Review

5 Stars Landmark political film debuts on UHD Blu-ray
I Am Cuba Screenshot Review

Today, I Am Cuba. One of the most regarded Soviet filmmakers of the 20th Century, Mikhail Kalatozov hailed from the Transcaucasian country of Georgia (then part of the Soviet Union) and began his career working on documentaries in the 1920’s – one film, Their Kingdom (1928), he made with Nutsa Gogoberidze, Georgia’s first female director. By the 1950’s, he was already established in the Soviet Union when The Cranes Are Flying (1957) brought him international acclaim (and the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1958) and he followed that up with Letter Never Sent (1960). For the follow up to the latter, Kalatozov was given considerable latitude for I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba), a joint production between the Soviet Union and Cuba to promote the former’s vision of international communism. Criterion has licensed the movie from Milestone Films – who previously released the movie on DVD – for its UHD Blu-ray debut.

I Am Cuba (1964)
Released: 01 Dec 1995
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 141 min
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Genre: Drama
Cast: Sergio Corrieri, Salvador Wood, José Gallardo
Writer(s): Enrique Pineda Barnet, Yevgeniy Yevtushenko
Plot: Four vignettes about the lives of the Cuban people set during the pre-revolutionary era.
IMDB rating: 8.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: Spanish 1.0 PCM (Mono), Other
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 21 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 04/23/2024
MSRP: $49.99

The Production: 4.5/5

In this ode to post-Revolution Cuba, four vignettes display four different lives living on the brink of change in the island nation. Maria (Luz María Collazo) – hoping to marry her fruit seller boyfriend René – has a rude awakening when her double life as “Betty” in the Havana casinos leads her to being seduced and abandoned by a rich American client. Sugar crop farmer Pedro (José Gallardo) reacts to his landlord selling the land his family lives and works on by giving away all his money and burning down the crop and home. Student activist Enrique (Raúl García) hopes to accomplish something important to the revolution but gets more than he bargained for when he sets his sights on assassinating the local chief of police. Finally, Mariano (Salvador Wood) is a farmer who just wants to live in peace, but when the conflict reaches his home, he ends up joining the revolutionaries on their march to Havana. All these vignettes are connected by a voice proclaiming herself to be “The Voice of Cuba” (Raquel Revuelta).

One of the most influential political films of all time, I Am Cuba is celebrated today for its visual content rather than the political statement its filmmakers were trying to make. Made as part of a close association between Cuba and the Soviet Union to forward a global vision of communism (not to mention a celebration for Fidel Castro’s triumphant revolution), director Mikhail Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky have created some of the most dynamic visuals ever committed to film; the movie accomplishes of some these unforgettable visuals with the use of a combination of infrared film obtained from the Soviet military, wide angle shots and a dose of acrobatics from the camera (check out the funeral procession of a slain student in the streets of Havana as well as the impressive tracking shot from a casino’s rooftop to the pool in the opening vignette). Despite the many innovative technical achievements (and committed performances from the cast – including 1,000 Cuban soldiers in one scene), the film – in a very ironic twist – was met with ambivalence from both Cuban and Soviet audiences upon first release and the movie faded into obscurity. However, the film’s rediscovery in the 1990’s – following the collapse of the Soviet Union – has allowed the movie to truly be appreciated for the visual accomplishments rather than the original intention to promote worldwide communism. Overall, I Am Cuba pushes the envelope in visual content to depict a fever dream of revolution and liberation, one that – from the visual and technical standpoint – continues to inspire filmmakers today.

While the cast of the movie is mostly consisting of names unknown to audiences outside of Cuba, two actors in the cast do stand out to this writer. Sergio Corrieri, who portrays Alberto, is best known for playing the lead in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s most renowned film, Memories of Underdevelopment (1968). Jean Bouise, who plays the American client who seduces and abandons Maria – while also taking her crucifix necklace – was better known as a character actor in his native France, often collaborating with directors Costa-Gavras, Jacques Rivette, Yves Boisset, Joseph Losey, Robert Enrico and Luc Besson (the last one for his final films as an actor).

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:33:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K transfer created from a 35mm fine grain positive for this release; on the UHD Blu-ray disc, the movie is presented in HDR, while the Blu-ray disc accompanying this release presents the movie in SDR. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. This UHD Blu-ray release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original Spanish soundtrack is presented on a PCM track – remastered from the original 35mm magnetic tracks – for this release; the alternate Russian dub for the movie is also presented on a PCM track for this release. Both tracks showcase faithful and clear presentation of dialogue, sound mix and Carlos Fariñas’ music score with minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present. Overall, this UHD Blu-ray release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 5/5

I Am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth (1:31:50) – This feature-length documentary from 2004 by Brazilian filmmaker Vicente Ferraz recounts the film’s production and convoluted release history from key participants in the film’s making; featuring interviews with screenwriter Enrique Pineda Barnet, actors Sergio Corrieri and Raúl García and ICAIC founder and its former president Alfredo Guevara.

2003 interview with Martin Scorsese (27:48) – Taken from Milestone’s previous DVD release, Scorsese recounts his involvement with the film’s rediscovery and re-release while sharing his appreciation for the movie.

Appreciation of the movie by cinematographer Bradford Young (22:03) – Young shares his appreciation for the work of Sergei Urusevsky on the movie in this brand new featurette.

Theatrical Trailer from the 1995 re-release (1:51)

Foldout feat. an essay by film critic Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero

Overall: 5/5

While it was ironically dismissed by both Cuban and Soviet audiences upon its initial release, I Am Cuba is renowned today for its breathtaking visuals that have deservedly garnered acclaim and continue to serve as inspiration for filmmakers. Criterion has likely delivered the definitive version of the movie on home video with a terrific HDR transfer and a solid slate of special features that delve into the making of this landmark film. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous DVD releases.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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johnmcmasters

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John McMasters
This is such an achingly beautiful film. I plead guilty to never upgrading since I acquired the old old laser disc back in the day, and this Criterion UHD was a day one preorder. Thank you for the review as it alleviated any lingering concerns I might have had about this release.
 

bujaki

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Jose Ortiz-Marrero
One minor correction in an outstanding review. The spelling of the actress Raquel Revueltas has an "s" at the end of her last name.
Anecdote: This actress, while married, visited Fidel Castro in prison and he sired a daughter with her. The daughter was initially recognized by Raquel's husband until it became too clear that she was so beautiful and couldn't be his. Furthermore, Castro bestowed many favors on the daughter. So the husband left Cuba and his wife and non-daughter behind.
Great actress, BTW.
 

Leif_sauce

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Leif
Is there a reason why there's never anything written in the Video section of each review? Also, I don't think Criterion put HDR on this, which is a shame. Why they would release this and the Apu trilogy without HDR is beyond me.
 

Peter Apruzzese

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Peter Apruzzese
Is there a reason why there's never anything written in the Video section of each review? Also, I don't think Criterion put HDR on this, which is a shame. Why they would release this and the Apu trilogy without HDR is beyond me.
The review states:

The film is presented in its original 1:33:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K transfer created from a 35mm fine grain positive for this release; on the UHD Blu-ray disc, the movie is presented in HDR, while the Blu-ray disc accompanying this release presents the movie in SDR. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. This UHD Blu-ray release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.
 
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