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Comandante (2003)

Directed by:

Oliver Stone

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 99 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

Country: United States, Spain

One of the main criticisms you often hear aimed at chat-show hosts is that they’re too nice to their guests. They tiptoe around the more sensitive issues and rarely seem to ask the questions that their viewers would really like to hear answered. The stock response to such accusations, of course, is that these shows would never be able to attract interviewees of any decent standing if they were to handle things any differently. It’s a Catch-22 situation, and one that undoubtedly has a firm grip on Oliver Stone’s ‘Comandante’.

The films sees Stone meet up and shoot the breeze with Fidel Castro, the beard-faced revolutionary whose leadership of Cuba stretches back for over 40 years. Over the course of a near puke-inducingly matey 30-hour marathon, the pair – plus Castro’s faithful interpreter Juanita Vera – chatted and chortled their way around the sights of Havana, the result of which is this 100-minute documentary.

It’s some pretty entertaining footage in places, particularly if you like the sound of ol’ Fidders telling us that one of the things he’s proudest of is the amount of time he’s saved in his life by not shaving; or talking about the drunken night out he once had with Yeltsin and Gorbachev (is anyone else picturing the three of them stumbling home in the small hours with traffic cones on their heads?); or giving the impression that he doesn’t take particularly kindly to hearing remarks made about his fondness for wearing green. But, if you’re after anything insightful or controversial, you can forget it: this entire interview is about as pressing as a broken travel iron.

It’s undoubtedly Stone who is to blame for the lily-livered nature of the film. He comes across as a complete and utter crawler, sappily allowing Castro to witter on in politically-correct sound bites, saying all the right things and not once being called to task. Stone brags in the film’s opening about how Castro was given the right to call for a cut at any time, but never used it. The director may think that’s a reflection of the Cuban leader’s openness, but all it really shows is that Castro could tell he was getting an easy ride (and, considering some of Stone’s questions are as lame as “When you were in the jungle with the army, did anyone ever get fed up?”, it’s hardly surprising).

In the end, I couldn’t help but wonder what the footage left on the cutting room floor must have been like. Stone sycophantically droning on about how much he loves beards? Castro telling one weak gag after another while his interviewer hysterically rolls around the floor laughing? Or perhaps just hour upon hour of the pair of them hugging. Whatever those lost 28-and-a-half hours feature, what’s been selected for public consumption seldom manages to live up to expectations.

It's Got: Castro proudly trumpeting the Cuban education system with a cry of “even our prostitutes are university graduates!” Aw, bless.

It Needs: Castro to, at one point or another, threaten to crush us all like the western capitalist pigs we are.

Alternatives:

The Fog of War

Summary

This fawning, limp-wristed pandering over one of the modern age’s most controversial political figures tells us absolutely nothing. It’s a good job it’s entertaining.

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