Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba is probably the sexiest communist propaganda film ever made. Even in black and white, the exquisitely long introductory aerial shot over lush coastline and wind-blown palm trees is as seductive as any ad for a tropical paradise. The breathy female voice that constantly coos "I Am Cuba" gives the "motherland" a particularly sensual aura. Fight for her and you will live forever, Kalatozov tells us later, though by then, peasant revolutionaries are endlessly repeating, "I am Fidel."
The dramatization of the exploitive nature of capitalist imperialism and the salvation offered by a people's revolution features many familiar refrains. It starts with a mention of Christopher Columbus extending the reign of the European powers over indigenous peoples. Returning to the 1950s, we see beautiful young Cuban women turned into prostitutes for American businessmen, with noticeably soulful nightclub singing and dancing and pool parties thrown in. Sun-bronzed peasant farmers are thrown off their land because it's been sold to the American company United Fruit. Radicalized students organize. Innocents are persecuted for being sympathetic to revolutionaries. But throughout, there are beautiful young faces and sultry Cuban music.
Shot in 1964, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film was supposed to capture the Cuban Revolution, but it was not well received in either the Soviet Union or Cuba. Given the aim to glorify the revolution, it's not surprising it stoops to melodramatic characterizations of people meant to exemplify social classes. But Kalatozov's camera work is impressive, and the film is beautifully shot. Because it never gained any official favor, it was all but forgotten until the fall of communism in the early 1990s. Anyone prone to wearing Che ware for irony's sake should enjoy the call to revolution. Presented by the New Orleans Film Society and Contemporary Arts Center in conjunction with Si Cuba! Tickets $8 general admission, $6 CAC and New Orleans Film Society members. — Will Coviello
I Am Cuba
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3800; www.cacno.org