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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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'.
I got Comandante from a second-hand DVD shop in my town. From the
summary on the back of the case it sounds great. I've an interest in
the different 'dictators' of the world and the way this film was
described made it sound right up my street.
How wrong I was. I expected nice long, insightful interviews with Castro. Instead, I got shaky, horribly-edited interviews about nothing of any real interest. We never get any chance to actually see the 'real' Castro through these interviews because Director Oliver Stone seems to have chopped out any good material he may have filmed over the three days they were in Cuba.
On top of all that, the concept of presenting the whole thing with the black-and-white "COMANDANTE" opening scene and such, to make the film look sort of like an old Commie propaganda video, just failed abysmally. Comandante was almost like a bad, unamusing parody of Communist propaganda films, with Fidel being like a cartoon version of himself throughout. Just rubbish.
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