Thursday 28 March 2019

Salut les Cubains [1963]

4 years after the historic Cuban Revolution – which saw Fidel Castro and his band of bearded rebels deposing the puppet dictator Batista and installing a Socialist state – Agnès Varda, in keeping with her Left Bank affiliations and like a string of intellectuals who were fascinated by this watershed event, made a trip to the island-nation to capture the post-revolution zeitgeist. She took around 4000 pictures there and used 1500 of those to make the heady, freewheeling and intoxicating photomontage essay-film Salut les Cubains, as the follow-up to Cléo from 5 to 7. In this enthralling endeavour, she was deeply influenced by Chris Marker – he’d made a trip to Cuba a couple of years back and had made the documentary Cuba Si!; and more importantly, his seminal short film La Jetée, which too was composed using still pictures. This court métrage, playfully narrated by Varda and Michel Piccoli, provided for an engrossing portrayal of the varying facets of the new socio-political order. Topics such as agrarian reforms and mass-education program for peasants were interesting but also tad pedagogical. But Varda, being too intelligent a filmmaker to make a straightforward agitprop, delved heavily on the country’s distinctive Afro-Spanish cultural influences; its vibrant artistic and literary scene comprising of Alea (Memories of Underdevelopment, Death of a Bureaucrat), Carpentier (Reasonsof State), etc.; the throbbing rhythm of the rumba; the beloved Cuban singer-songwriter Benny Moré; pop-cultural references (Havana cigar, Greene’s comic gem Our Man in Havana, Hemingway, irreverent Castro graffiti). Irrespective of which side of the political spectrum one aligns with, this absorbing work is bound to spellbind with its infectious energy, tongue-in-cheek humour, affection for the common folks, and the ravishingly beautiful B/W photographs.

Director: Agnes Varda
Genre: Documentary/Political Film/Essay Film/Short Film
Language: French
Country: France

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