‘Fidel!’ DVD review (Detroit Metrotimes)

To cut right to the chase, Fidel! is a fantastic documentary. Made in 1969 by director Saul Landau, the filmmakers had unprecedented — and unseen again — access to Fidel Castro, just a decade after the Cuban Revolution, during a period when the bloom was still on Cuba’s socialist rose. Castro, expansively articulate, ruthlessly cocky and youthfully handsome, had yet to turn into the toothless, aging agitator most Americans now know, and the film shows him in a variety of personal and professional settings, rounding out the one-dimensional caricature he’s so often cast as. Landau captured the man at the height of his powers, when the privation of the American embargo was countered by a robust trade with the Soviet Union and the dream of a communal Caribbean paradise seemed tantalizingly close to fruition. At least that’s what the charismatic leader wanted Landau and his crew to believe. Instead, the fruited plains and productive factories that Castro boasts of so proudly are contrasted with breadlines and scenes of devastating poverty. It’s truly amazing that Castro and his propaganda team allowed such images to leave the island, but by balancing the truth with Fidel’s engaging fantasies, Landau’s doc manages to be more accurate than a film on either of those things would have been on its own.

First appeared May 27, 2009 in Detroit Metrotimes.

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