Comandante (2003) Poster


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Balanced on a tightrope
gavin-9617 May 2004
Watching recent documentaries from writers such as Michael Moore, one may be confused to what a documentary actually is. Comandante is a perfect example of what a documentary should be like. By the end of its running, the viewer has seen a balanced account with enough information either way to give food for thought.

I came away from this asking myself - 'is Castro a truly great man?', or is he 'full of ***t'?, or on the other hand has he just not practiced what he has preached?

Moore on the other hand comes from a journalistic angle, everything so over emphasised and dramatised, as if he is almost trying to convince the viewer to agree with him. He presents information through his own paradigm of the opinion he is carrying at the time.

Comandante is a mature documentary, flawless in presentation as Stones work generally is; but the key to its quality, is that it does not give you the answer. It documents the facts.

Comandante easily achieves what it sets out to do. Some viewers may expect more given the subject, but for the purist, satisfaction guaranteed.
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The US needs more of these.
cidkid22 May 2006
Despite the anti-Castro rhetoric that has been going on in this country since the 1960's, this film has managed to make its way to the mainstream media of the most hostile nation towards Cuba. This documentary gives us a view at Cuba's Fidel Castro. Castro has been one of the most talked about leaders this century and has managed to "control" or stay in power more than any other head of state alive today. Demonized and admired by millions worldwide, Castro is seen as he is today, an aged man with stories and anecdotes that would require volumes to ever capture on film. I highly suggest viewing this film, regardless of you political persuasion. For those who view Castro as a revolutionary , the always active and still brilliant way that he answers some of Stone's toughest questions, this film will probably further your admiration in this charismatic figure. For those who view him as a ruthless dictator, you might see this film as a bit soft. Stone does not insult him or complicate him, at least not to a level that Castro can not handle. Maybe it is the fact that this documentary shows a human being and not our common image of a communist on the quest for power.
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A great documentary on Castro
The_Deputy22 May 2004
In the American corporate media, Castro is always played up as some kind of monster. The corporate media (and a host of draconian laws help) prevent us from hearing what he has to say. This documentary is excellent if anything but to give us a chance to hear what Castro has to say.

This was geared for an American audience, most of whom are probably ignorant about who Arbenz was, or Allende, and who probably never heard of the MPLA. It's mentioned at some point in the film that all the bad things that American big business and the CIA do around the world is known around the world - known everywhere except by US citizens. This is true, then again, the US is one of the few industrialized countries who for most of the 20th into the 21st century had almost all of it's radio and television channels, as well as newspaper printing presses controlled by corporations. It's unfortunate that Stone thus feels he has to ask about Cubans in Vietnam and this sort of nonsense which takes up time that could have been used asking more about Castro's perspective of what is going on in Latin America.
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Eye opener
aristofanis9 May 2013
I just saw Comandante on Greek public television, in its entirety and uninterrupted and was immediately drawn to it.

Whether one agrees with Cuba's political system or not, is not the issue here. What Oliver Stone has achieved is what no journalist or historian has ever come close to. He brings himself and his crew right up close to the aged leader and confronts him relentlessly with questions from the mundane to the esoteric and from the political to the personal. Ideas about the past and the future, about dreams, art, democracy, colonialism, family, religion, women's rights, education, love etc are all exposed here, bringing out an intimate portrait. The questions are often uncomfortable as when Stone asks Castro about his ex wives in front of his wife, or when his claims about policing in Cuba are denied by one of Stone's crew members. Yet Castro even at this age, is sharp, humorous and poetic in a way that reveals the intellectual behind the politician.

It is also a travel documentary of Havana where Fidel Castro is Stone's guide and walks him through the city's monuments and cafés, sits next to him at the back seat of his car, eats and drinks with him and we get a sense that he knows what is happening in Havana's every alley.

One thing is for sure: no other country leader would ever allow himself the closeness Castro offers to Stone and expose his feelings and doubts with such spontaneity.

Stone turns a formal encounter into a family visit and brings the audience to meet an iconic political figure and spend a couple of intimate hours with him.

A work that leaves you thinking for a long while.
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Small Island, Big Revolution, Giant Leader.
frankiehudson19 December 2005
This film is a fantastic, hypnotic encounter with the legendary Marxist, world agitator and bete noire to America, Fidel Castro. It features left-wing warrior Oliver Stone's trademark flash cutting and controversial storytelling, alongside a simply stunning musical score from Alberto Iglesias. Prepare for the Buena Vista Social Club (2001) on revolutionary acid.

The beginning of Commandante – yet another Oliver Stone masterpiece – is similar to the beginning of his epic JFK (1991): lots of archive footage of Castro and Cuba, only this time intercut with masses of frenzied crowds drunk on revolutionary fervour, all shouting 'Fidel, Fidel', hailing their great man who is still there in this film, forty years later. Incredible.

There is both 1960s and modern footage of Havana featuring giant murals of 'Che' Guevara, Fidel ('VIVA FIDEL CASTRO') and … a total absence of any corporate, Western advertising whatsoever. There is a lot of poverty, but also a series of impromptu meetings between Castro (and Stone) and various Cubans in the streets. Propaganda or planned? The movie harks back to the original revolution in 1959 and Castro's initial pro-Western peoples revolution, hailing (in English) 'representative democracy' and 'social justice'. Of course, the American corporations and political elite could never countenance any notion of true democracy just ninety miles from their corrupt lands and so the story unfolds of how various presidents tried to invade the island and destroy their path.

Fidel himself at 80 is surprisingly fit and optimistic, always in his olive green military fatigues. He appears to be a genuine messiah, despite the paradox of religion and atheistic communism in this island paradise. He wears his customary beard, is polite and genuinely sincere. Castro and Oliver Stone – in a remarkably frank and candid series of interviews – go on to discuss everything from politics, film, women and nationalism. Castro admires Sophia Loren, Charlie Chaplin, Khruschev, Gorbachev, Depardieu and a host of others. He has watched Titanic and Gladiator but hates Nixon – who he considers the originator of the American hatred of his island – yet feels sorry for Kennedy for being assassinated.

Could George W Bush even consider for one second walking the streets of his capital city? No, he would be strung up as a corrupt war criminal and stooge to all of the corporate giants that have been banished from Cuba (Texaco, Gulfoil, McDonalds, etc.).

In the original 1960s footage Castro is hailed by crowds of literally one million people. He is a strange combo of Dr Caligari, Karl Marx and the Pope.
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Good insight into the life of the Cuban!
christianmayer22 August 2006
Before having seen this film I thought that Castro is a dictator. After watching this film I know (respectively I believe) that:

1.) The word "dictator" (in a negative sense) is not correct. Monarch, principal, emperor or "president for a lifetime" are better for this form of government.

2.) In Cuba, there are free elections on the district level. The mandatories are elected directly. Not through a party.

3.) Castro did a lot for education in his land. And he did a lot against prostitution.

4.) Since all times, Castro is against torture. Also during the US attack on his country.

5.) Castro defended his land successfully against an invasion of US troops. For this, the help from the former UDSSR (by Chruschtschow) was necessary (deployment of nuclear weapons during 13 days).

6.) Since all times in the USA, every American who is against the American policy against Cuba (economic embargo since 1960) is defamed as a communist or as an enemy of the state.
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Lets see Bush up Close and Personal
cubanorwich22 May 2006
It warms my heart to discover that there are human beings in charge on some parts of the planet. Stone's documentary, although annoyingly pop videoish in places shows us the human side of Castro. I do not care where your politics lie, who can argue with a policy of housing, education and health care for all. Castro is portrayed by the US in an uncomplimentary light, well its good to know not all Americans feel that he is a ruthless dictator.

I want to know what Bush would say about crime, prostitution, religion, war and torture. He would not only deny it he would outright claim his country to be perfect. well nobody or country is perfect, and a least Castro can admit this. I just think of all he has achieved with one hand tied behind his back, it put's the West to shame, if his democracy is different to our's, who are we to say he is wrong!
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Stone's lifetime effort
alberto_cascante18 November 2009
Oliver Stone, probably one of the most relevant filmmakers of the last decades in the United States, has been trying to get the American public –one of the most ignorant and alienated populations among developed countries– into alternative sides of what in the USA has been called the "official story". Comandante is not an exception in that aim, and it may approach the viewers to some topics that big media corporations and the military-industrial complex have been boycotting through the years in order to avoid the public to ask their government about some big questions. Stone's filmography evidences his own interest in the last half of the recent century –the half he was born in and the events, after WW2, that bring the United States to become what we know today–, and the plots that –in his own words– diminished individual freedom and democratic values in "the land of the free and the home of the brave!" Position for which he has often been criticized "for promoting conspiracy theories and alleged historical inaccuracies." This documentary is an important effort, now that Fidel Castro –one of the 10 most influential politicians of the last century– is probably close to the end of his life. Some analysts have said that the 20th Century will have officially ended after Castro's death.
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Castro + Stone = shrug?
flickershows31 March 2004
Since I was not one of the few people who saw Oliver Stone's documentary about Fidel Castro in its 5-minute theatrical run, I was excited to see that CBC Newsworld here in Canada was running it this past weekend. The film was edited down a bit to fit into the network's alloted time slot, although I don't think we missed anything important. This is essentially a multi-camera one-on-one conversation between two controversial men, with a woman translator to bridge the communications gap on both sides. Since this doc gives Castro the chance to say whatever he wants, corporate & political America must have scoffed at the very idea of this film. If they were concerned that Stone would get conspiracy theorists buzzing about the still-fiery Cuba situation, they can calm down. That would take a powerful 'JFK' type film. This is not even close to that level.

The filmmaker employs many of his usual techniques, cutting ruthlessly between stock footage and the many cameras he's brought with him. This is one time where that might not only be effective, but necessary. Watching a man in his 70s go on about various topics (politics, dictators, U.S. relations, Che Guevara) would get boring if not for the mix of visual material weaved into the picture. Not that Castro is up on a pulpit. He's sympathetic here & there, tough & determined too. He also seems to be hiding something. He claims never to have tortured a soul in his 40+ years in power, yet Newsworld's host tells us that 3 Cuban dissidents were killed just recently (dozens were jailed). He's preaching to the converted guy sitting right beside him when he gives Stone his views on hypocritical U.S. leaders and the Kennedy assassination (yup, not a lone gunman), then doesn't take enough responsibility for some of the dangerous events he's "witnessed" (the Cuban Missile Crisis, for instance).

Hey, I better be honest here, much of my knowledge of Cuba has come from movies...some of them directed by Stone himself. Excellent, here's a chance to hear a dictator's side of the story right from his own mouth. We learn off the top that Castro never asked Stone to stop his multitude of cameras, so the film is apparently an uncensored look. All the same, I have no doubt that Castro did what all politicians do; jazz the place up when the unblinking eye of a camera is upon him. We see several Cubans and foreign visitors fawn over Castro, yet it comes off as a typical political photo op. Really, would it be very hard to find a few pro-Castro crowds to wow Stone for a few days? Stone undoubtedly believes that his film is balanced, and indeed the lack of a voice-over narration allows viewers to listen to the two men talking and draw their own conclusions. Here's mine---I feel no closer to knowing Castro than I did before seeing 'Comandante'.

It should come as no surprise that a living political leader would give us limited access to what's really on his mind. I'm not saying that Castro is lying or that Stone is throwing softballs, but this is a subject that should have been far more explosive. Castro + Stone = shrug? That's not the math I expected to be doing after seeing this film. All the same, the most false moment comes at the end. The hug shared by Stone and Castro seemed heartfelt, but the crew didn't seem quite as eager or as comfortable to embrace the hug-happy communist dictator. Perhaps that few seconds of the picture tells us a great deal more about Fidel Castro than the rest of the doc does---some sympathize, others distrust. Stone is going back to Cuba to shoot a sequel of sorts. Hopefully, he'll prepare better, dig deeper, and draw the real Fidel out. He didn't do it in 'Comandante'.
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Weak documentary for the Castro fan club only.
bijou-212 July 2003
This film is an interesting document only because it provides a glimpse into the leader's more trivial pursuits. ("I've seen TITANIC on video. It needs a big screen" says Castro.) It fails miserably where Oliver Stones asks tough questions yet fails to pursue the partial answers, or at times total avoidance of the question altogether.

Some of the issues talked around are surprising (The CIA role in Angola, Cuba's AIDS quarantine camps, the role of Miami exiles, 1980's prison camps for gays) while others are just bizarre (the lack of multiple parties in Cuban elections, his son's US education, Nicaragua and Venezuela).

The documentary instead puts us through yet another series of Che Guevara tales told less than honestly by Fidel. The frequent shots of Eva Peron suggest that Fidel Castro's revolution is not a failed relic but rather the dreamy illusions of yet another misguided albeit glamorous femme fatale.
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Lower your expectations...
Decko_koji_obecava7 April 2004
Like one of the previous reviewers I also recently saw 'Comandante' on Canadian cable outlet CBC Newsworld...

Nothing earth shattering to report here: to the extent that I'm even having trouble labeling the movie interesting, which is quite a surprise considering the array of historically significant topics and events it touches on - though I must say seeing Fidel sport a black pair of Nikes as he paces around his office (apparently on regular basis to get exercise) might alone be worth the price of admission.

Observant audience members will also notice he grows his fingernails long for no apparent reason, which I guess is the kind of vanity one engages in after ruling a nation with an iron fist for 40+ years.

Those expecting Bill O'Reilly-type barrage of aggressive queries thrown Fidel's way will be more than disappointed. If you've ever wondered what it would be like if Robin Leech and pre-'View' Barbara Walters morphed into single person who then got an assignment to interview a sitting president.... well, you may have gotten your answer in Stone's laid back style.

Though it's clearly not all Oliver's fault, I'm really none the wiser about Fidel after 'Comandante' than I was, say, about JaRule following his appearance on MTV's 'Cribs'.

The reasons why this 2-colourful-guy chitchat ended up on TV instead of being released in the theaters are very much political and duly reflect America's current paranoid social climate.

However, in the end the movie actually profited from such skullduggery since even on the small screen I found it only marginally arousing. Having to pay $12 ticket for this would really be a bummer.
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Cubanbred3 December 2006
In communism/socialism the beginning is always the End. One dictator removes another from power by force. Many praise the men that at the moment believe what they fight for some kind of change, usually when the previous government has been corrupt in some way. Corruption creates poverty and poverty leads to stress then becomes the fuel for a revolution. Most revolutions in our history have lead to totalitarianism. I like to blame that on human nature the USA is not perfect but its pretty close if you do not know what it's like to live in Cuba don't be mistaken tourist don't see the suffering especially if you have the money. Venezuela is a fresh look on early Cuba lets see how its ends up in a few years. HUGO CHAVEZ and some fanatics are beginning to dismantle any checks and balances the country may have plans on changing how long he can serve as president no limit remind you of something. Enough about that after so many years and tears and lives lost at sea. The exiled Cubans have preserved peace by leaving through 90 miles of rough seas on anything that floats not recreating another revolt adding to the cycle of bull in almost 40 odd years. Thousands of lives lost at sea as well as injustices on that prisoner island. Please think why would so many people risk their lives in such a way.
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Cubanorwich is a genius
wrightr-214 December 2006
I'd like to congratulate cubanorwich on a phenomenal movie review; it was top notch-very objective and professional. I like the way he uses historical facts about the successes of communism in places like Soviet Russia and Maoist China in helping to ward off mass starvation, human rights abuses, and their efforts to promote freedom of speech and of the press. I agree with you, cubanorwich; I too am overjoyed with the current state of the Cuban economy and of the liberties afforded to each citizen to criticize the government in print, speech, and protest. It must be that all of these political refugees from Cuba are simply ignorant ignoramuses. You, Sir, should go immediately to Oxford and apply for a job in the history department; surely they will be falling all over themselves to hire you. Or at the very least, you should call Freedomhouse here in America and tell them off. Keep up the good work.
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A dinosaur in Cuba
jordiainaud14 June 2003
"Comandante" has all the virtues (and defects) one could expect from Oliver Stone: great editing, a bigger-than-life protagonist, and a close, albeit superficial, look at the political myths of the 60s and 70s: Kennedy, Nixon, Kruschev, Che Guevara --they are all here, plus Castro himself, of course. Stone is not a professional journalist, and at some points, one wonders about the depth of his research on Castro's darkest side. On the other hand, he does ask some tough questions. Castro provides some answers, too, which you may believe or not, and only in very few occasions does he elude a straight reply. But then again, isn't that what most politicians would do (e.g. Bill Clinton commenting on his "relationship" with Monica Lewinsky)? And at some points, Castro's insights prove revealing and even illuminating. All in all, "Comandante" is a good documentary, as it sheds some light on a most interesting and troubled period of our history. I hardly think Castro's portrait in the film is 100% positive: he is too complex a character to emerge as a saintly figure, especially for a 100-minute documentary. I see him as some sort of political dinosaur who has managed to survive in his Caribbean time-capsule. If you liked "Jurassic Park", you'll probably enjoy "Comandante".
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I guess Hitler was a great leader "been sarcastic"
chesterb00727 May 2008
All men that kidnap a country for their own game, should not be call leader, There is not freedom of speech, not Freedom to travel, not Freedom to be you, not Freedom to grow and let your mind fly and take you places u have never dream about, Not freedom of press, not Freedom to stand up for urself. that what Castro gave to 10 mill people in the last 50 years. but there is "free medical, free school" let see medical help is free because he pay u in pesos and sell the service to other country for dollars. school is free because u go to the coffee bean plantations andpick up coffee and he sell it for dollars. u get free school n medical because the aveg salary its $20 a months, i guess we need to thanks him for that because with $20 salary a month no even a dog can live. Sad that the film don't show the other side of the coin from the people in cuba. Are you free.?
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Castro portrayed as a nice guy? What?
craig813016 May 2010
Its sad when post and movies like this portray Castro as nice guy and when Hollywood elites make movies portraying communist, or socialist leaders as good guys. Remember he is a Communist. But then again the people who posted positive reviews about Cuba and Castro are probably a Communist themselves. Yes, we live in a democracy in good old USA and with democracy there will be side effects such as crime, prostitution, etc. Just like a prescription drug to help us get better. Side effect can be anything, headaches, vomit, etc but one takes the drug to fight the infection or disease, the person will get healed over time using the prescribed drug. This analogy can be similar to Democracy. Yes, there are side effect in our society, however it is the best govt system to live under. The United States would not have been a super power if it weren't for a democratic free society under our great constitution. Now, lets look at Cuba. Has it's Communist government advance the country- No, Technology? NO, it copies from our nation and many others. Does Cuba give personal freedoms to their people that our US constitution gives us. The Right to free speech> Can they openly criticized Castro and not get punished? Can the people of Cuba vote their leader out of office on next election? Can the people throw out the leader if the leader turns on its people when that leader feels he will lose his or her power of the govt? NO. Remember Communist is about control over its people and the freedoms of their people. What gets me is the very freedoms and democratic system that we have in our country. The Hollywood stars enjoy our freedoms of our great country. They have the freedom to make any movies and make a lot of many, yet most of the Hollywood stars end up turning against our country USA, our way of government and they end up supporting Socialist and Communist leaders of other countries such as Chavez and Castro who if these Hollywood stars had lived initially in those communist Socialist countries would have never made it as entertainment stars in motion picture and certainly would not have made the money they make now! Wow, Is the USA great! Land of opportunity. Our country USA, governed by 3 branches of Govnt and not by one man who would rule for as long as he lives with no chance of its people to oust him if the wanted too? Can the people of Cuba leave their country freely to any country they choose to? NO. Communist Govt would not allow them unless they are the cronies of their govt Communist heads. Why don't some of the people here in the USA who are communist supporters and sympathizer who are in support of the Socialist and Communist countries and its leaders leave our country freely and go live happily in those Communist countries that they so admire. Its because they really know that they would lose the very freedoms that they have in our great county- USA! Just a note, I am an Hispanic not a Cuban, born in USA and proud to be an American.
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