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Overall Rating

Awesome: 26.67%
Worth A Look: 6.67%
Pretty Bad: 6.67%
Total Crap: 13.33%

1 review, 9 user ratings

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by Chris Parry

"The documentary that, according to HBO, isn't good enough for you to see."
3 stars

I'll say it; Oliver Stone is a nutbar. No surprise there, I'm sure. He can point a camera, he can sell movie tickets, but he's a nutbar conspiracy theorist, ain't no doubt about it. Now that we've got that out of the way, he's also a screen legend, in the league of Scorsese, Coppola, Polanski and the like. So when Oli hops a plane to Cuba to go spend a few days with Fidel Castro, you just know that something is going to be captured on his camera that will, at the least, prove interesting. Or at least it would prove interesting, if Americans were actually allowed to watch the thing.

I've never quite understood why Cuba is so picked on by the USA. Okay, Fidel doesn't have a great human rights record, but neither does the US when you consider that the American government executed more people last year than every country in the world, with the exception of Iran and China (source: Amnesty International).

Maybe it's because Fidel is a Communist. We all know Communists are evil... but then again, we gave China 'most favored nation' status a few years back and do billions of dollars in trade with them. They're Communists too, and have a horrific human rights record which includes outlawing religions, forced sterilization and abortion, and frequent cases of people being jailed with charges being laid. So why do we pick on Cuba, but do business with China?

That's the essential question asked in Oliver Stone's Comandante, though to be fair, Stone doesn't do a whole lot of asking, investigating or researching. What he does is shadow Fidel Castro, the long time leader of the tiny island nation, to record what Castro's average day is like.

And for all intents and purposes, Castro's daily routine is nothing special. He goes to the office, he drives around town and shakes hands with tourists, he pontificates how Bush wants him dead, just as his dad did, and he talks us through old war stories. While Comandante is at no point riveting, it's in the very least interesting. Hearing Castro talking about Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs, how he was used by the Soviets and how he took power in the first place is an opportunity we've never had before. From a purely historical basis, this is must-see stuff, at least if you give a damn about world politics.

Stone took a lot of heat for going to Cuba, including accusations that he was 'giving comfort to the enemy' and helping spread pro-Castro propaganda. While it's easy for people to throw stones (no pun intended) from the sidelines, you have to wonder what these armchair commentators thought when American network TV managed to arrange an interview with Saddam Hussein before the Gulf War. Was this 'spreading Saddam's propaganda', or was it news? Was it 'giving comfort to the enemy' or was it a chance to explore the thinking of a guy we call 'enemy'?

Obviously it makes a lot more sense to talk to those we disagree with than it does to shut them out, and to his credit, Stone has tried - perhaps a little too hard at times - to give Castro a chance to tell his side of the story. What you do with that information is up to you, but no conclusions are drawn by Stone as he lets Castro himself do most of the talking, and that's exactly the sort of thing you'd expect a documentary filmmaker to do.

Where he falls short is that it's very clear that Stone digs Fidel's shtick. He's a fan, no question about it, and rarely does Stone throw the bearded leader any prickly questions. But he does throw some, strange as they might seem; "Have you ever seen a psychiatrist?" asks Stone, to about as much bewilderment from Fidel as from the audience itself. "No," says Castro, leaving us wondering exactly where he would find a psychiatrist if he wanted to. "I've got cars from 1956, my uniform was sewed together by my mom and you think I have time for psychiatrists? What the hell is wrong with you, capitalist running dog?"

HBO bought this film off Stone but later had second thoughts. Wasn't 'objective' enough they said, and they duly refused to screen the film. Stone objected loudly and publicly, so HBO gave him more money to go shoot more footage that was a little harder on Castro. That footage has now been shown on HBO's network as a sort of pay-off to keep Stone quiet, but this film, the film Stone wanted to be seen, is every bit as good as any number of other films that are seen on HBO, and in fact it's far better, and far more important, than anything you'll see on HBO at 2am on a Tuesday.

HBO should lay it on the line and tell us the truth about this decision - that they didn't want to piss anyone off by being seen to 'support the enemy'. And that's a shame, because anyone who watches this film can see quite plainly that Fidel Castro is nobody's enemy. He's simply an old revolutionary who refuses to sell out, even if that means his people are forced to live in the late 1950's by the western world.

For those who didn't know, Castro offers free college education to anyone who comes to Cuba and asks for it. So hey, American kids, instead of signing up to the Army Reserve so you can get an education and risking having your head blown off in the desert, take a flight from Canada into Cuba and get yourself some free schooling without the threat of death. And then thank Oliver Stone for making it known that such possibilities even exist.

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originally posted: 04/09/04 11:19:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.

User Comments

12/14/06 evil why do you think cubans risk their lives in man made rafts?go to cuba,be opressed 1 stars
10/26/05 Pete James Kondoff I've been to Cuba six times and Oliver Sone has captured what anyone can see all over Cuba. 5 stars
4/08/05 fred fuck fuck fuck your brains 4 stars
1/21/05 Tomas A few days with a living legend, not more, not less 5 stars
8/25/04 yoursitesucks anti-american assholes. go to hell and eat shit. 1 stars
4/09/04 Hilarium Castro is no threat to anyone. So why are we threatening him? 2 stars
1/23/03 Mr Math Stone isn't a good enough interviewer to catch Castro in a trap. Interesting, but not great 3 stars
1/23/03 Adam Little Best Sundance documentary yet. Oliver Stone does it again. 5 stars
1/23/03 French Plug Can't wait for "Persona Non Grata"! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Oliver Stone

Written by

  Fidel Castro

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