In February 2002, filmmaker Oliver Stone spent three days with Fidel Castro. From some 30 hours of tape he assembles this captivating documentary, an intimate portrait of the Cuban leader. Of course, this being Stone, it’s also hugely slanted … especially when we see Castro get away unchallenged with evasive and patently false answers to questions about such touchy issues as his approach to racism, torture, sexuality and drugs. But Castro emerges as a charming character–engaging, sincere and very intelligent. And a real politician with an expertise in the art of spin.
Stone includes a lot of archival footage as well, opening with a mock newsreel about the 1959 revolution that overthrew the Batista regime. Political conflicts form a large part of the film, as Castro reminisces about Kennedy, Khrushchev, Nixon, Gorbachev, Reagan and Bush II with a disarming openness. He also talks quite movingly about Che Guevara; and Stone can’t resist including lots of footage of the freedom fighter and cultural icon, plus a few too many clips of Eva Peron (accompanied by the swelling strains of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina)!
And while it’s fascinating to get Castro’s perspective on things like the Bay of Pigs invasion, the missile crisis, US intervention in Latin America and the Cold War, we can’t help but feel that Stone is bending this documentary for his own personal interest. Castro is a bit too wonderful–art aficionado, passionate lover, international hero (sending troops to help Angola), improving the life of his dearly beloved populace.
Yes, he also talks about regrets–Castro comes across as very realistic and self-aware. He also understands the situation in the USA much more sharply than we’d expect, astutely seeing how the American public are oblivious to the truth, accepting the lies of their government in the name of national (or now “homeland”) security. This would all have a much stronger punch if it weren’t for Stone’s relentless one-sided editing. But at least the point is made.