Stone's intimate document of Castro as man rather than monster

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Cuban Reels
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DIRECTED BY Oliver Stone

STARRING Fidel Castro, Oliver Stone

Opens October 10, Cert 15, 99 mins

Perhaps it was inevitable that Oliver Stone would one day make a movie about Fidel Castro. The turbulence of 1960s America has been Stone’s great theme, and America’s obsession with the tiny communist state floating in its backyard is one of the key motifs of that era; Fidel himself has been a recurring phantom presence in Stone’s work since his script for Scarface, and practically plays cameos in Salvador, Nixon, and, particularly, JFK.

Stone’s documentary, filmed with extraordinary access to Castro over three days in Havana in 2002, is his most controversial film since his dazzling dissection of the Kennedy assassination, and for similar reasons. Stone once said that, whether or not JFK uncovered ‘the truth’, he hoped it would come to be seen as an alternative myth to the official version presented by the Warren Commission. His portrait of Castro has been criticised as soft and one-sided, and it’s true Stone is content to let Castro off surprisingly lightly over issues such as Cuba’s civil rights record. But, at the very least, his film is of tremendous importance in directly challenging the caricature of Bearded Commie Monster propagated by the American establishment.

For here, in this astonishingly intimate film?less documentary than document, recording a long, relaxed, frequently funny conversation between film-maker and subject?we have Castro as a man, a human being. The cameras seem captivated by the 76-year-old’s soulful eyes, sculpted face and extraordinary poet’s hands (not to mention iconic green battle fatigues and unexpected Nike trainers). Castro waxes lyrical on the revolution, Cuba’s ongoing social experiment, and what will become of it after he is gone, as well as such disparate subjects as shaving, Viagra, guns, women and age. He even expresses his regret at never having seen Titanic on the big screen.

With post-9/11 America entering a period Norman Mailer described as “pre-fascist”, this flawed but fascinating work reasserts Stone’s importance as Hollywood’s most tenacious iconoclast. Paradoxically, however, the clearest indication of how valuable his film is might be that, at the time of writing, Comandante?originally commissioned by the HBO channel to be broadcast in May?has yet to be screened in the States.