On a balmy night last month, a guitarist friend of mine, Carlos, was due to perform with his vocalist girlfriend and a man on congas at the Hotel Capri in Havana. Earlier in the day I’d promised Carlos I would drop by and see him play. Since arriving in Cuba on holiday I’d been meaning to check out the renovated Hotel Capri anyway. It had been on the top of my list of places to visit from the time I first saw one of my favourite films, ‘Soy Cuba’, or in English, ‘I am Cuba’.
At the beginning of the film, a canoe glides past river-dwelling Cubans going about their day in a chrome-like brightness, the action suddenly jumping to a lavish party on the rooftop of Havana’s splendid Hotel Capri. The first extended tracking shot at the Capri is arguably one of the most stunning in the history of cinema. Along with the close-up wide-angle lenses and the Soviet military infrared film stock used, the cinematography of this Russian/Cuban co-production is breathtaking. While ‘I am Cuba’ may not have been well-received at the time, with the help of American director Martin Scorsese it was restored in the 1990s and has since gain a cult following.