Salut les Cubains (1963) - full transcript

During her visit to Cuba in 1963, only four years after Fidel Castro came to power, director Agnès Varda decided to explore the post-revolution Cuban culture and society. As the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos didn't grant her permission to shoot a film, instead, filmmaker Agnès Varda returned home with thousands of pictures she took while on vacation. This delightful black-and-white composition, described by Varda as "a mixture of socialism and cha-cha-cha", where the editing resembles a choreography, intermingles the photos with catchy Cuban rhythms while exploring the effects of the revolution on Cuba's people. - stop by if you're interested in the nutritional composition of food
Paris, St Germain des Pr?s,
June 1963.


Cuba: 10 years of Revolution
Photo exhibition

Cuba, January 1963.

To express received ideas,

Cuba was a cigar-shaped island
for men.

A crocodile-shaped island
for ladies.

Since the Cuban Revolution,
all Cubans have beards

because of Fidel Castro.

Since the Caribbean Crisis,
Cuba's been a floating mine.

Y et people are curious about Cuba
as the Cuban Revolution was lyrical;

their march was the conga;

they said "Our country or death";
some did die, but this country exists.

I was in Cuba.

I brought back jumbled images.
To order them, I made this homage,

this film entitled
"Hi There, Cubanos".

Visitors are surprised
by how Cuba's moving

and the tropical-socialist

Y es, there are cigars in Cuba.

Y es, there are beards:

Rebel beards,

artist beards,

or official beards,

but Cuba's most common beard

is beard-like cotton candy.

It is a land of sugar.

And there are the Cuban women.

The Cuban women,

between the cigars and beards.

Visitors soon distinguish
between decorative color

and the more socialist color.

Here are ladies' hats for tourists.

Here's to Marxism-Leninism
in a militia woman's beret.

Here, the infinite variety
of men's hats.

Here's to the workers of
an oil refinery in the Bay of Santiago.

Here, the Bay of Havana.

Here's to a boat
of Vietnamese friends.

Here, bare-headed women
or with hair rollers.

Here's to a studious student
with a firm hold on her pencil.

Here, a Chinaman from Chinatown.

Here, a cockfighting fan.
And here, the cock.

Here's to the cooperative chickens.

Here's to the model bull
from a model bull cooperative.

This mountain painter...

...likes air and freedom.

It's amusing when he compares
his work to Havana's tallest building.

Here's to Cuban excess:
Financing this crazy fresco

and a village in the trees

which was built by domino players.

For lottery fans,
an invitation to luck and dancing

as exotic
as the dyes in Japanese silk.

Before the Revolution,

lottery profits went to the dictator's
wife for her pocket money.

Since the Liberation, it's been used
by the Reconstruction Institute.

With this silk paper...
this paper silk

have been built East Havana

and other workers' homes
to replace the slums.

Here's to ex-rebel lieutenant,
Eugenio Mur.

In English, Eugene Wall.

A mason foreman.

For him, revolution
means construction.

As it is for Ricardo Porro,
a disciple of Le Corbusier and Gaudi.

He builds great art schools

for future actors, musicians,
dancers, painters and sculptors.

Here's to future artists.

Here, a former sculptor
with his model / pupil

who looks like his Eve.

Here's to Selma Diaz,
architect and planner

seen in the very moving documentary,
"Cuba Si".

She's an emblem of Cuban youth.
She is also one of its loveliest faces.

Here's to "Cuba Si, y ankee No".

Y et this is reminiscent
of US films...

"Our Man in Havana."

...villages in westerns...

"The Big Country."


Here's to "Johnny Guitar".

The revolutionaries' triumphant ride
to celebrate

July 26th,

the date of the traditional carnival
that I didn't see, alas,

but which is the date
of the 1st liberation battle

at Moncada Barracks
organized by Fidel Castro

who it is time to talk about.

He is the Man of Cuba,
as Gary Cooper

was the "Man of the West".

He is a star as bearded vociferator,

smiling leader,

and hirsute maquisard.

He's the Prime Minister
and the Party's Secretary-General.

Fidel Castro Ruiz, 37 -
10 years of revolutionary action:

1 in the resistance,
2 in prison,

1 in exile,

2 in the maquis,
and 4 in the living revolution.

He's talkative.

In his speeches
which can last 6 hours,

his concern is to be clear.

He can get carried away.

He represents the people,
and the people represent him.

Luckily I wasn't born with
the vocation of being a "caudillo".

I remember that during the war,
I didn't give orders in a military way.

I think it's better
to persuade people.

The truths of historical reality
are so clear, obvious and tangibl that

anyone intelligent understands them.
It's not indoctrination.

Some people couldn't
be revolutionary

by nature or temperament
for above all,

a revolutionary is generous, selfless,

prepared to sacrifice himself.

A revolutionary isn't
an opportunist or an actor.

I'm glad that I was
politically ignorant at 18

and that I still feel as revolutionary
18 years later.

Our country is a guinea-pig
for Latin American revolution.

So, we do all we can
to gain experience

and be an example to our allies.

More than ever, I am proud
to be a man of this people.

Another man of the people: President
of the Republic, Osvaldo Dorticos.

A lawyer like Fidel, but less colorful.

He works very efficiently
alongside Fidel on a daily basis.

Lastly, here's the king.

In Havana he's called the
"Rhythm King" or the "Barbarian".

Benny Mor? sings and dances
a "son montuno",

derived from peasant songs.

Only have your face

stroked by Cuban girls!

Only one strokes mine...

and she's Cuban!

Here's to Benny Mor?

who sadly passed away
before this film was completed.

Here's to the dead king.

He spoke of Cuban women
like a Cuban.

So, on to the blending
in music and women.

The Cuban woman has African pride

plus Spanish spice:


with a smile.

Here's the Cuban woman
at the women's congress.

Here, part of the body politic.

And she has a melodic body,

a moving S.

The fashion
for these narrow skirts reveals

her simple, natural aggressiveness.

What counts
is the body's rhythm and music.

The music too is a happy blend

of 3 ingredients:
Spanish, African,

and French. Y es, indeed!

16th-century Spanish colonists
brought their language,

their Catholicism

- still thriving -

and their music, passed on
by peasants - "guajiras" -

to become "son" and "guaracha".

This is about land reform.

Carlos Raphael
is in charge of land reform.

The State reclaimed
50% of Cuba's land.

It is farmed
by and for cooperatives.

Small landowners
are also banding together.

The US took the sugar
and gave away the rest.

Since the economic change,
sugar has posed problems.

Sugarcane spells wealth.

It is the currency,
but it is also hard work.

We need the people's help
to cut all the sugarcane!

There are appeals for volunteers
on the radio and in songs,

"guajiras" sung in "decimas".

Some agree to work for 3 months.

Others go on Sundays.

Music and emulation work well:

The sugarcane gets cut.

Peasants can read and write
thanks to the Revolution.

Up to 1960,
40% of Cubans were illiterate,

so teams of volunteer students

- some as young as 12 -
were trained to teach.

100,000 of them

spent a year going around villages,
teaching the ABC

and helping old peasants
discover writing.

One youth was killed
by counter-revolutionaries.

When they came back, Fidel said
they had won a battle

and awarded them all

These scholars
- many of them peasants - live

in the old residential quarter.

They discover the modern city.

They discover the museums.

They learn about the Revolution

and their History.

These photos were

shown in Paris
in June '63 and before that,

exhibited in Havana

where I noticed,
as I watched the visitors,

this typical gesture:

The man puts his hand
on the woman's shoulder.

Raul Castro, Fidel's brother,
opened this show.

He's the Army Secretary.

He comes to the port

for a trip with friends
around the Bay of Havana.

With this little sailor,

they go to a boat, the "Granma".

But their trip is a pilgrimage,

and the boat is a historic one.

They are part of Cuba's history.

In November '58
on this 80-foot-long boat,

82 men set sail from Mexico

and landed in Cuba
to liberate the country.

These political exiles and volunteers
prepared the Revolution.

They allowed 4 days
to cross the Caribbean.

They took food, radios, weapons.

They were to be met
by maquisard peasants.

They sailed for 8 days
between Mexico and Cuba.

These 82 men, trained for months,
had to stand virtually upright.

40 below, 42 on deck.
They hadn't anticipated

the storm, the roll,
and the foggy nights.

Here's to seasick revolutionaries!

Upon landing 3 days late,
they wanted

to kiss their native soil...

Lyrical revolutionaries!

...but they were in the marshes

for hours.
The water came up to their arms

and they had to abandon
their weapons, food, and radios.

With no contact from maquisards,

shot at and hunted down,

it took a month
to reach the Sierra,

walking at night,
eating sugarcane,

drinking dew off leaves.

82 set off - 12 arrived.

Among them, Raul Castro,

Calixto Garcia,

Juan Almeida, as well as

Fidel Castro,

Che Guevara,

and Camillo Cienfuegos,

The 12 swore not to cut their hair
till Cuba was free.

Here's to romantic revolutionaries!

They organized resistance
in the Sierra for 2 years,

aided by local peasants -
the rebel army.

Around there, once,

when the shadows grow long,

I saw a truck arriving.

Musicians gathered
around a hurdy-gurdy.

On it was written:
"The rumba's coming".

The dance certainly is coming.

And the villagers start dancing.

We've felt the African rhythms.

Let's see
the 2nd origin of Cuban music:

Black slaves from Africa whose
rhythms may be heard in celebrations

such as the "bombes"
of the Locumi religion.

This religion has mixed
Catholic and other mythologies.

Ochum, goddess of love,

patron of rivers, gold, and honey,

a sort of African Aphrodite,
with many lovers,

is worshipped
as Our Lady of Charity,

Cuba's patron saint,
with masses in the Basilica del Cobre.

Another religion
comes from the Congo.

To a connoisseur, the mythology
and rhythms are different.

Here's a religious leader.

His title is
"Principal Tataganga of Bititicongo".

He sacrifices
white animals on the altar,

a crucifix
surrounded by animal skulls.

Other black cults include
the dancing Abakua, dressed as devils.

All these African rhythms gradually
became Afro-Cuban rhythms

like the rumba
whose purest form, the "guaguanco"

has just rhythm
and narrative singing.

This is about a row
between a spoon and a fork,

orchestrated by the saucepans.

It's a concrete poem.
Cuban intellectuals love "guaguanco".

Here, in the Writers' House,
are 2 national poets.

Nicolas Guillen sang
of his black and white grandfathers

and integrated black rhythms
into Spanish poetry.

Roberto Retamar,
precious, secretive, very spiritual.

His poems remind me of Rilke.

Alejo Carpentier,
well-known for novels

like "El Siglo de las Luces",
runs the State publishing house.

Here he is at home with his wife,
Lydia under paintings by Lam.

Wilfredo Lam is a great painter,

a bit African, a bit Chinese -
very international.

A surrealist

with a tropical realism,

abounding in tragic sensuality.

He is known in Europe,
but in Cuba,

he's a national Picasso.

And here's Raul Milian.

His ink paintings
are subtle and desperate.

Here's Rene Portocarrero,

a happy painter of cities and women

who uses color to express

the Cuban baroque.

I heard Fidel talk about painting.

Cuban artists dislike
Khrushchev's views on abstract art.

But Cuba's a free country.

Our painters are revolutionary,
but who stops them being abstract?

Who could stop
this old Santiago woman dancing?

104 years old.

She represents the 3rd origin
of Cuban music: French.

The slaves of the French who came
after the Haitian Revolution

passed on these dances,
counterfeit quadrilles.

"Carabali isuama":

The kings and queens bow
to each other in courtly costumes

and white stockings.

The "tumba francesa"
around a beribboned pole.

A dance with veils,
overseen by the elders.

Out of all this grew
the "danzon" of the 20s

that some "charanga" bands still

perform on Sunday mornings.

Meanwhile, volunteers
work in the fields

and militia women
- also volunteers -

guard stores and public buildings...

in case of counter-revolutionary
attacks, aided by powerful neighbors.

Meanwhile, others

spend Sundays
just like anywhere else...

doing nothing...

or playing baseball
by Havana's baroque cathedral...

or in their Sunday best -

white if you're a black lady,

black if you're a white lady...

or carrying your white doll
if you're a black girl,

your black doll
if you're a white girl.

Then it's Monday once more.

This cleaner at the museum,

dusting the Attic curves
with a nurse's gentleness, moved me

like the caretaker
in Hemingway's house.

He's the gardener.

When Hemingway wrote
"The Old Man and the Sea",

he was inspired
by a local fisherman from Cojimar.

Everything is just as it was then.

The gardener seems
part of the museum.

I wanted to shoot a film here,
but the ICAIC already has.

The ICAIC - Cuban Film Institute -
began with the Liberation.

Run by Alfredo Guevara,

assisted by Saul y elin
for world affairs,

and by Hector Garcia Mesa
for the very fine film library.

It produced historical films
like "Joven Rebelde",

played by an actor,
seen here on guard;

comedies like "Las 12 Sillas",
directed by Alea;

mythological films like
"El Otro Cristobal" by Gatti.

This young person,

Sarita Gomez directs didactic films.

She'll dance, accompanied
by other filmmakers and an actress,

the final cha-cha-cha.

Subtitles: J. Miller