remiered at this year's Edinburgh International
Film Festival, director Oliver Stone's first foray into documentaries,
is predictably disappointing fare. Stone's subject is the
Cuban President, Fidel Castro, who has ruled the tiny island
for over four decades. Stone has a long-standing interest
in Latin America. The title of his third (and best film),
Salvador, says it all. He also developed the film version
of the musical, Evita (Alan Parker eventually adapted his
screenplay) and planned an (aborted) bio-pic of General Noreiga,
which was to have starred Al Pacino. In the past, Stone has
shown sympathies that could be construed as 'left wing'.
He is, alas, as patriotic a right-wing American as they come.
After all, Charlton Heston starred in his most-recent feature,
Any Given Sunday.
One can see why the gap-toothed director, here sporting
a moustache that makes him look like Saddam Hussein's third
decoy, would have been welcomed by Castro. Here, the Cuban
leader would have an opportunity to explain his ideology
to the American public undiluted by CNN and the like. Stone's
agenda is somewhat different. He is interested in his own
bêtes noir: Castro's views on the assassination of
John F. Kennedy, the behaviour of Richard Nixon, the potential
for 'other Vietnams'.
Granted three days to interview Castro in February 2002,
Stone surrounds him with digital video cameramen almost
as if he were shooting a concert movie like Stop Making Sense.
(Would that Castro perform his acoustic version of Psycho
Killer.) The feverish editing style, pointless tracking
inexpressive close-ups and (mostly) un-contextualised grainy
newsreel footage do little toenhance the verbal questions
and answers. When Stone has a chance to let a picture tell
a story, moving through Castro's art collection in his
Presidential Palace, he barely pauses to let us see the work.
The first question shows how uncertain Stone's approach
is: 'How do you divide up your day? How much is administrative,
how much creative, how long do you spend on maintenance?'
(How I missed Michael Moore's faux-genial direct approach.)
Castro's answer, typically less-than-telling, is that
he spends little on paperwork and most of his day talking
the people. One assumes he cannot maintain the country
because the US blockade restricts his access to resources.
explain that he saves time by not shaving, but his beard,
though long, does look as though it receives the attention
of a gardener, if not a barber.) Throughout, we never
the sense of a meeting of informed intellects. Stone
has modelled his interviewing style on Michael Parkinson,
recourse to the Yorkshireman's lower-middle-class background.
So what does Stone let Castro say? Firstly, how good
his Latin American Medical School is, offering free
training for under-privileged students not only from other
American countries but also from hispanic communities
He talks up the improvement in literacy rates and in
the numbers going to universities. He explains how
not believe that President Kennedy was killed by a
('when you shoot a rifle, the barrel moves away from
the target, you have to re-aim; the shots could not
from one person'). Nixon was 'a hypocrite'. 'Eva Peron,
rather than her husband Juan', was a person to aspire
to. The Cuban
Missile Crisis was brought about by 'a poor piece of
translation' (he never intended Cuba to offer a first
did not let the Cuban people down (cancelling Soviet
aid), it was 'the fault of the US blockade'.
The most interesting section concerns Ernesto 'Che'
Guevara, who successfully assisted Castro in his
rise to power.
According to accounts, says Stone, 'Guevara returned
from Angola [where
he was part of a contingent of 30,000 troops], spent
forty-eight hours in a heated debate with you [Castro],
the door and headed for Bolivia [where he died in
1968].' 'That is ridiculous,' counters Castro. 'Who writes
history books like that?' (Evidently, he has not
bio-pics.) Significantly, he never elaborates.
So many questions, so little information. Castro
makes a point of not talking about his personal
various affairs). He refuses to condemn organized
'opium for the masses'. He does not think of himself
as a dictator.
On democracy, he curtly tells Stone that he should
more about our system to discover how people are
elected; candidates come 'from the people' (as
opposed to political
parties). For his part, Stone lets him off the
hook on his government's treatment of the black population
When asked who will succeed him, Castro's answer
would make even Alistair Campbell gag, 'The people'.
the killer questions, whether Castro thinks he
still the best person to lead his country, whether
collapse like East Germany. Castro's persona, always
seen in green fatigues as Commander-in-Chief rather
than a President
(except when the Pope paid him a visit), suggests
that he is too defensive to fully consider the
what he is
clinging on to.
Comandante opens in cinemas in October.