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'.
18 out of 38 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.