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I Am Cuba

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Image credit:  I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba), 1964

Image credit: I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba), 1964

To close out Foreign Cinema Month on Cinema Sips, I’m featuring a film that is maybe the epitome of esoteric international art-house fare. Black-and-White photography? Check. No discernable plot? Check. Long stretches of time with no dialogue and beautiful tracking shots? Check. Gorgeous peasants who look like they stepped off the pages of an old Life magazine? Check!

I Am Cuba (DVD) is a Cuban/Soviet collaboration directed by Mikhail Kalatozov depicting the persecution and eventual rebellion of the communist Cuban party. I know- a laugh a minute, right? What draws me in to this film right away is the exquisite cinematography, which begins on a jungle cruise and continues onto a rooftop pool with the Havana La Dolce Vita crowd. Later, we’re transported to a smoky nightclub where a mournful singer croons `Loco Amor’, and depressed prostitutes nurse cocktails at the bar. The whole movie feels like a dream, or perhaps a nightmare that haunts you long after it’s over. My Laserdisc (yes, it is the dream of the 90’s at my house) of the film is subtitled in English, I think the characters are speaking Spanish, and there’s also Russian dubbing thrown in for fun. The American characters are either dubbed badly by someone with a Russian accent, or the Russian (or Cuban?) actors couldn’t quite grasp English before making this- I can’t tell which. Talk about foreign cinema!

I’ve featured variations on the Mojito several times on Cinema Sips, but with such an authentic Cuban movie, I think it’s time to make the real thing. I’ve been saving the mojito for either I Am Cuba or Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and Kalatozov beat Swayze by a nose. According to the bartender at San Antonio’s Hotel Havana, the key to an excellent mojito is to roll the mint leaves against the palm of your hand to release the oils. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I had fun testing the theory. While watching I Am Cuba, I recommend drinking a Mojito.

Mojito

1 ½ oz White Rum

6 leaves of Mint

1 oz fresh lime juice

2 tsp. sugar

Soda Water

Muddle mint leaves in the bottom of a glass with sugar and lime juice. Add the rum, ice, and top with soda water. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

mojito

I have had such a great time re-discovering international cinema this month. Watching any of these films always gives me a bit of wanderlust. There were a few that didn’t make the cut that I’d still like to mention- I’m So Excited (or really anything by Pedro Almodóvar), Y Tu Mamá También, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Blue is the Warmest Color, Jules et Jim, and The Blue Angel.  I urge you readers to check out one or two of the movies I’ve featured, and let me know if you have any other favorites. There really is a whole world of cinema out there waiting to be explored. Cheers!

Amélie

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Image Credit: Amélie, 2001

Image Credit: Amélie, 2001

Cinema Sips is traveling to Paris this week, for a romp around the Montmartre district. French cinema has a long and storied history, beginning with the films of the Lumière Bros., George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, and continuing on with those sexy intellectual films of The New Wave. However, in my lifetime, the one film that has made me truly excited about French cinema is the adorable, whimsical Amélie (DVD/Download). Like an Anthropologie catalog mixed with a dash of Audrey Hepburn and a pinch of Wes Anderson on crystal meth, Amélie depicts Parisians as wonderful, cynical, stylish, romantic creatures. Additionally, it highlights fabulous French haircuts that as an average American I will never be able to pull off (despite a misguided attempt in 2002).

Amélie is about a kind-hearted, but lonely young woman played by Audrey Tautou (obviously channeling another famous Audrey) who decides to devote her life to helping the people around her. Playing match-maker, comedienne, seeing-eye waif, and companion to a brittle-boned painter, she flits in and out of the lives of her Montmartre compatriots like a French Tinkerbell. She lives in a world of imagination, eventually realizing that her fear and insecurities have prevented her from finding her own true love and happiness. Amélie is romantic, funny, sentimental, and crowd-pleasing (so… not your typical French film). But it also celebrates the minutia of everyday life, and the interconnectedness of human existence.

In celebration of all things French, and my favorite Amélie character, I’ll be mixing a Kir.  A simple cocktail,  Amélie serves it with a smile to the tragic Hipolito, who has embraced his destiny as a failed writer.  If the future that awaits me as an unpublished author involves a cute waitress bringing me cocktails in a charming Parisian cafe, consider me lucky.  While watching Amélie, I recommend drinking a Kir.

Kir

1 1/2 oz Dry White Wine

1/4 oz Crème de Cassis

Pour white wine into a glass, then top with Crème de Cassis.

Kir 

There was a bit of Amélie overload 10 years ago (what girl didn’t have the movie poster on her college dorm room wall?), but now that I’ve spent time away, I can appreciate what I loved about this film in the first place. Yes Amélie finds romance and quite possibly her soulmate, but more importantly she finds friendship and connection with the people who orbit her world. She’s a reminder that even the smallest act can brighten someone’s day, or change the course of destiny forever. Also, she’s a reminder that I should never try short bangs again. Cheers!