I imagine that any review of a documentary of Fidel Castro will bog down into pro and anti arguments against socialism versus capitalism. I wish to avoid that particular conundrum, but it is probably inevitable as we so enjoy our cold wars.
The release year of Fidel is listed as 1969, and the interviews look to have been conducted in 1968. The Cold War was certainly simmering at that point in time. The United States was mired in Vietnam, ostensibly against the Soviet threat, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was still a frightening memory. I was six, so if my review sounds like I am viewing a historical document of which I had no understanding of at the time, I am.
There is no question that Fidel is biased, and thankfully so. What we see here is exactly what Castro wanted the world to see. He is presented as a “man of the people” who would rather be out in the field talking to farmers about their daily lives, than sitting behind a desk. Having said that though, none of these sequences seem staged.
The filmmakers follow Castro around the countryside, and record him speaking in one-on-one situations. There is criticism, couched as jokes, and Castro takes it all in stride. For those who would equate him with Stalin or Hitler, let me just say that I could not imagine conversations this seemingly spontaneous ever going on with either of them. To add insult to injury, the man is extraordinarily engaging.
Maybe the biggest strike against the film is the quote from Ralph J. Gleason on the cover. “…Exciting and illuminating work. I found it completely absorbing from the start to finish. A tapestry for history.“ Along with Jann Wenner, Gleason co-founded Rolling Stone, which Sheriff Joe Arpaio now calls “that marijuana magazine.” I don’t know, maybe Arpaio is the voice of today’s not-so-silent majority. I doubt he would enjoy this film, that’s for sure. But I bet he votes Tea Party all the way.