From: "Pedro Martori"
Subject: A Selective Portrait of Castro and Cuba's Revolution
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 22:55:35 -0400
NNTP-Posting-Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 22:55:48 EDT
Organization: Bell Sympatico
The New York Times
A Selective Portrait of Castro and Cuba's Revolution
October 18, 2002
By A. O. SCOTT
Estela Bravo's new documentary, "Fidel," poses an
apparently straightforward question. Is its subject, Fidel
Castro, who has ruled Cuba since 1959, "a demon or a symbol
of resistance and social justice"? But the phrasing of the
question gives away the answer: this is an exercise not in
biography but in hero worship.
Ms. Bravo has done some impressive research, unearthing
archival photographs and film of Mr. Castro and
interviewing many of his friends and comrades, but to call
her presentation of the man and his revolution one-sided
would be an understatement. "Fidel" resembles nothing so
much as the work of a second-rate Renaissance court painter
devoted to the flattery of the subject rather than the
accuracy of the portrait.
At one point, the American novelist Alice Walker, with
sublime soft-headedness, marvels that Mr. Castro cannot
dance or sing. "It's a good thing he's got all those other
good qualities," she says. (Later, she compares him to a
redwood tree.) This is about the harshest criticism Ms.
Bravo permits, and one wonders just which good qualities
Ms. Walker had in mind. The persecution of homosexuals? The
silencing of political opposition? The jailing of
"Fidel," which opens today in New York, rules such issues
inadmissible, and this is a shame. A balanced assessment of
Cuba's revolution, which has survived the collapse of
socialism and four decades of American efforts to reverse
and obstruct it, would be fascinating and important.
But for Ms. Bravo and the staunch partisans who populate
her film, Mr. Castro must be either a monster or a saint.
The possibility that he is both - or that he is neither,
but rather a complex and contradictory historical figure -
cannot be entertained. The film holds fast to one of the
sorrier traditions of the left: the belief that any
_expression of doubt about the virtue of a revolutionary
regime can only play into the hands of its enemies, and so
must be suppressed.
The history recounted in "Fidel" is not entirely worthless
and is at least a starting point for consideration of the
complex, entwined but not entirely congruent histories of
the cold war and the struggles for self-determination in
the post-colonial world. The Bay of Pigs and the missile
crisis of 1962 receive due attention, as does Mr. Castro's
sponsorship of various third world insurgencies. Nelson
Mandela credits Cuba's intervention in the Angolan civil
war with hastening the end of South African apartheid. All
of this, as well as domestic achievements in education and
health care, are certainly part of Mr. Castro's record,
just as the wiliness, wit and resilience evident in
speeches and interviews are part of his character.
Doggedly and single-mindedly, Ms. Bravo insists that there
are no other sides. While Mr. Castro's travels are duly
chronicled, the Mariel boatlift goes entirely unmentioned.
We do catch a glimpse of a few people setting off on a
makeshift raft, but the film never bothers to ask why
anyone would risk exposure, drowning and shark attacks to
get away from Mr. Castro's social justice. A number of
revolutionary fighters offer touching reminiscences, but
the experiences of those who fought in the revolution and
were later betrayed or victimized by it is wiped from the
It is hardly surprising that Ms. Bravo does not interview
any of Mr. Castro's die-hard enemies, but she conveniently
pretends that the only opposition to his rule has come from
right-wing exiles and the Central Intelligence Agency. The
heartbreak that so often follows revolutionary enthusiasm -
a phenomenon movingly illuminated, for instance, in the
writings of Reinaldo Arenas and in "Before Night Falls,"
Julian Schnabel's film biography of Arenas - is rendered
nonexistent by this movie, which admits of no nuance, no
ambiguity, no argument. This is bad cinema and bad history.
Ms. Bravo is unstinting in her praise for the omelet and
her admiration of the chef, but she refuses to admit that
she's walking on eggshells.
Directed by Estela Bravo; in English and Spanish, with
English subtitles; directors of photography, Roberto Chile
and Kevin Keating; edited by David Frankel, Monica
Henriquez and Fermin Gonzalez; music by Frank Fernandez;
produced by Elizabeth Beer; released by First Run Features.
Running time: 91 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Elián Gonzalez, the
Buena Vista Social Club, Alice Walker, Sydney Pollack, Ted
Turner, Muhammed Ali, Harry Belafonte, Arthur Schlesinger
Jr., Charles B. Rangel, Ramsey Clark, Wayne Smith and
Gabriel García Márquez.
All things work together for the good for those who love the Lord
and are the called according to His purpose . . . Romans 8:28
Todo obra para bien para los que aman al Señor y estan llamados
de acuerdo a Su proposito . . . Romanos 8:28
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