This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


“I Am Cuba,” “Manufactured Landscapes”

Posted by on

By Michael Atkinson
IFC News

[Photo: “I Am Cuba,” Milestone Films]

Though only recently exhumed from the neverworld abyss of forgotten cinema — it was 1992, in fact — it does seem as if Mikhail Kalatozov’s “I Am Cuba” (1964) has always been with us, always staking out its small, idiosyncratic turf as Communist agitprop’s most unrestrained diva hymn, and one of the most visually titanic works in the century of movies. If you’ve managed to avoid it up to now, Milestone’s new bells-&-whistles DVD release is your present to yourself this Christmas — newly struck from the original Russian master, and coming gift-wrapped in an almost absurdly lavish cigar-box case, accompanied by two supplementary documentary discs and a thorough booklet of explicative material. Still, in my experience, the movie bedazzles regardless of its condition or format — there’s just no acclimating to, or being blasé about, the famously superhuman cinematographic stunt work and the unearthly white-wheat-dark-sky exposures (achieved with infra-red stock), all of it mated to an unfettered revolutionary outrage that abstractly details life before and during Castro’s rebel war, from decadent tourist pool parties to police brigade atrocities to guerrilla righteousness in the mountains.

The resulting assault seems at this remove to be less about Cuba per se than about the fusillade of movement, shadow, light and landscape on the viewer’s tender optic nerves. Indeed, this rare co-production between Mosfilm and Castro’s new state-run ICIAC tanked with its intended Communist audiences, proving too languid and impressionistic for the Cubans and too tropical-exotic for the Russians. No one else saw it. I’ve had suburban college students, otherwise prone to dozy dismissiveness at the very notion of a black-&-white, subtitled movie, weep openly at “I Am Cuba.” Once you’re confronted with the famous, two-and-a-half-minute one-shot funeral march sequence, in which seemingly the entirety of the city of Havana is participating, and in which the camera climbs buildings, passes over rooftops and through windows and finally flies out over the crowd in mid-air, without a single cut, you’ve begun to understand how the film certainly represented a kind of cinematic frontier for filmmakers like Miklós Jancsó, Andrei Tarkovsky, Alexander Sokurov and Theo Angelopoulos, and still does, in many ways, today.

It’s propaganda, of course, and fascinating for that — but still, naïve as it seems, the film (co-written by poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko) makes a feverish case you can’t argue with, for the people and against state power. Kalatozov, a veteran from the silent days, made his global mark in 1957 with “The Cranes Are Flying” (an award-winner at Cannes), and along with “I Am Cuba” and 1959’s “The Letter Never Sent” (imagine a film that looks like Cuba butthat was shot entirely in the Siberian wilderness), his work with levitating cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky had a still-unacknowledged impact on international art cinema. (Note that before “The Cranes Are Flying” hit the festival circuit, Antonioni and Bergman were still making visually orthodox films.) Each Kalatozov/Urusevsky take is a trapeze stunt, an athletic exercise in seeing how much life can be crammed into a single, breath-holding camera take, and “I Am Cuba” may be their premier achievement (there’s at least one other we haven’t seen, 1955’s “The First Echelon”; Urusevsky also shot with Pudovkin, Donskoi and Grigori Chukrai). Once you’ve steeped yourself in the film’s magical waters, go to Vicente Ferraz’s “I Am Cuba — The Siberian Mammoth” (2005), a new and addictive chronicle included in the cigar box, which returns to the places and personnel from the production, and tells us perhaps too much about how the film achieved its transcendent grandeur, amid the lingering vapors of the 1962 missile crisis — the imported cranes, suspended cameras, chemical infusions, camera-operator relay races and a shooting period that lasted almost two years, lengthened by days spent waiting for “interesting” clouds. Kino, kino, kino!, as Guy Maddin has said.

Hunting little-publicized mammoths in its own way, Jennifer Baichwal’s “Manufactured Landscapes” is the year’s most chilling horror film, a cold-stare portrait of planetary waste that makes “An Inconvenient Truth” look like, well, an Al Gore lecture. Baichwal simply follows photographer Edward Burtynsky, documenting his process, showing his work and often dollying through the locations he’s studying — which are all unimaginably huge, unfathomably grotesque and morally nauseating arenas of human industrial destruction, from dumping sites to decommissioned mines to dehumanized manufacturing operations to poisoned landscapes glowing with radioactive colors. Properly, Baichwal uses Burtynsky only as a guide into these circumstances; his art stands for itself, and so does Baichwal’s unnarrated footage, leaving it less a movie about an artist — fine and good — than about the world he struggles to depict. Numbers can bounce off of us, but these images don’t, resonating with guilt and culpability, and breathtaking in scale. It’s a new, freshly-sharpened effort to jostle us from our it’s-a-shame middle-class complacency, but that becomes part of the film’s subject, too, questioning without a word why some areas of the world sit under a billion tons of our industries’ toxic refuse and some don’t.

“I Am Cuba” (Milestone) and “Manufactured Landscapes” (Zeitgeist) will be available on DVD November 20th.

Watch More

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

Watch More

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Watch More

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

Watch More