I AM CUBA
SOY CUBA
1964, Milestone Films, 141 min, Cuba/Soviet Union, Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov

Started only a week after the Cuban missile crisis, this film was designed to be Cuba’s answer to both Eisenstein’s POTEMKIN and Godard’s BREATHLESS. But I AM CUBA turned out to be something quite unique - a wildly schizophrenic celebration of Communist iconography, mixing Slavic solemnity with Latin sensuality. The plot, or rather plots, explore the seductive, decadent (and marvelously photogenic) world of Batista’s Cuba - deliriously juxtaposing images of wealthy American tourists with scenes of ramshackle slums. Cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky’s gravity-defying camera glides effortlessly through long, continuous shots, but beyond its bravura technical accomplishments, I AM CUBA succeeds in exploring the innermost feelings of the characters and their often desperate situations.


THE CRANES ARE FLYING
LETYAT ZHURAVLI
1957, Janus Films, 95 min, Soviet Union, Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, THE CRANES ARE FLYING is a superbly crafted drama, bolstered by stunning cinematography and impassioned performances. Veronica and Boris are blissfully in love, until the eruption of World War II tears them apart. Boris is sent to the front lines … and then communication stops. Meanwhile, Veronica tries to ward off spiritual numbness while Boris’ draft-dodging cousin makes increasingly forceful overtures.


BEAU TRAVAIL
1999, Janus Films, 90 min, France, Dir: Claire Denis

Considered by many to be Claire Denis’ masterpiece, BEAU TRAVAIL sets Herman Melville’s classic novella Billy Budd in a distinctly modern milieu, telling a universal tale of jealousy while mining the intricate details of the French Foreign Legion’s presence in the Gulf of Djibouti. Tuning in to the haptic qualities and emotional registers of the physical world in a way only Denis can, the film examines what is both on and beneath the surface of this dry, salty environment, juxtaposing it with the glistening, sweat-ridden skin of its all-male subjects. The journey begins backward, as former Foreign Legion officer Galoup (Denis Lavant) longingly recalls his days as a leader of men. As we soon discover, his downfall involves a homoerotic jealousy so destructive that the lives it touches will never be the same. Featuring Grégoire Colin and Michel Subor.


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