Saturday, November 04, 2006



Dir: Estela Bravo (The Cuban Excludables)

Hero worshiping propaganda piece about the long time dictator of Cuba. Not that I am opposed to propaganda; there are plenty of half truths and overgeneralizations on all sides of this particular issue that one more hardly should rankle us. Taken dispassionately, as an argument, this documentary does what most of its kind do; presents the best positive case it can and then conveniently ignores or outright lies about the negatives.

As far as dictators go, Castro is on the more tolerable end. He isn't motivated by race, hasn't slaughtered millions, is not developing chemical weapons or trying to destroy the infidels. In Fidel, we have run of the mill power hunger and political repression. And yet, it is undeniable that he has been on the right side of many international issues. It is his foreign policy that is mostly covered by this documentary. His defense of Angola, his early allegiance with the anti-aparthied cause, and his resitance to right wing regimes in Latin America that were supported by the United States are all the actions of someone who has no political price to pay for standing up to powerful countries. Having the US as an enemy helped him domesticly (what a blessing the embargo was to his stability!), and his patronage by the USSR was guaranteed so long as they were able. Castro had the freedom to become the darling of the international left wing.

This documentary conducts interviews with the usual suspects for Castro praise, Harry Belafonte and Alice Walker and Angela Davies and the like. There are no original Catro interviews here, just snippets of other broadcasts. Essentially, the documentary is a piece of editing, not original film work. The story is coherent, at least, and the pre-revolutionary parts of Castro's life are covered well. But the film is hardly a spellbinding production.

Easily, though, the most interesting part of the film is what is not said. Human rights within Cuba are given about three minutes, perhaps. The film maker acknowledges criticisms of the lack of dissent, the jailing of political prisoners, and the odd fact that a man of the people has rejected democracy for forty years. The responses are two-fold: one, "how can you expect him to be a democrat when the big bad USA is always against him" and two (I kid you not, this is run by Harry Belofonte in the film) "political dissent shouldn't be tolerated in Cuba becuase almost everyone supports Castro." This delicious bit of ironic apologetics is worth watching the documentary for itself. No one hates Castro, and those that do should be locked up because no one hates Casrto.

That segment is a microcosm of the problem with this sort of issue. In a polarized rhetorical setting, you either accept Castro wholeheartedly or completely reject him. You either forgive his intolerable domestic repression or support an embargo on the country. There is no room in this film, or in the world apparently, to both admire his foreign policy and abhor his tactics, to acknowledge his ability to pick a fight but reject his methods of waging it. Fidel is a bad, bad documentary becuase it is unsophisticated. That it reflects our civic discourse is a sad affair.