David Attwood
2002, Showtime Network
206 minutes (English)

LATAMROB rating: **

IT WOULD appear that the anti-Castro brigade hated it, which is surprising given how balanced David Attwood’s biopic about Fidel Castro is. The Miami fire-spitters still believe that film directors are the modern historians, and this clearly says more about how stupid they are than it does about an individual movie.

Within the genre of a made-for-television epic, Attwood has brought together a surprisingly broad range of perspectives on a man whose continuing presence serves to remind a humbled US of its own imperial follies.

Fidel, played by Víctor Huggo Martin, evolves from the naïve and bumbling young lawyer whose political consciousness has been awakened by US misbehaviour and avarice in his homeland into the vast, invincible, revolutionary leader and leftwing icon that is recognisable in every corner of the globe.

Attwood has tried hard to explore some of the more nuanced themes that Castro’s tightening grip over Cuban society – and his growing paranoia and isolation – have raised, but the position he takes as a director is fairly clear from the start: a balanced personal view alongside a political perspective that is summed up well by the marketing tagline, “He fought for freedom. He settled for power”. This is particularly evident in the detour the director takes with Huber Matos (Ernesto Godoy) and the failures of the new regime to establish a new economic model. But one supposes wearily that little more can be expected from a movie about Castro in English made by Showtime Networks.

Many avenues remain unexplored or under-explored – how the US corrupted Cuban society, how Cuban people really responded to their new regime, how the embargo sapped the life from the revolution, the revolution’s real social achievements, and how Castro inspired a generation of Latin Americans tired of corrupt authoritarian regimes propped up by Washington – in favour of narrow personal insights and, at times, distractions.

Gael García Bernal is convincing as a much more hardline Che Guevara – a clever sop by Attwood to the inevitable bleating from Cuban Americans about the harshness of “revolutionary justice” – although the director loses many opportunities for exploring Fidel’s relationship with the Argentine adventurer.

This must have been a difficult movie to make and Attwood deserves credit simply for pulling it off. If one criticism of it must stand out, it is that the film – split into two discs – was almost as long as one of Fidel’s speeches or, indeed, his rule. And that is probably far too long. – EC

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