Oliver Stone, USA
2003, HBO
99 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles

LATAMROB rating: ****

ASKED IN Madrid whether George W. Bush would ever have provided him the access that the then Cuban leader Fidel Castro had in order to make the documentary Comandante, Oliver Stone replied that, of course he would not. That was, in part, because Castro was “human”. There is no doubt that Stone’s colourful profile of the iconic revolutionary who has outlived and out-led a sad rogue’s gallery of US presidents identifies the human qualities of the man Washington loves to hate. But what is so interesting about this film – heavily criticised in the US mainly because its poorly educated citizens still cannot come to terms with the epochal scale of their leaders’ policy failures towards a neighbouring country – is that it reveals that the hate-crime is not reciprocated: Castro hates the US people no more today than when, as a 14-year-old, he wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt to tell him what a great guy he was. With depressing predictability, Stone was criticised for letting the strongman off the hook and for ignoring some of the worst aspects of the Cuban regime, but his questions seemed fairly blunt to me – even if they did reveal that he is no journalist and has a short attention span. The very fact that he gave Castro the opportunity to have his say at a time of rising aggression towards Cuba by the White House frat-brat, and the fact that HBO then dropped the film because his doing so caused them such discomfort, are what will be remembered in the bigger scheme of things. Even now it’s hard to get hold of in the US. Strange that, for a free society… This is a must-see movie that makes a significant contribution to the history of Cuban-US relations, and is a highly original addition to the large body of biographical material about Fidel Castro. Wherever you stand politically, it is worth watching. – EC