November 27, 2002

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'Fidel'
Castro revealed

TO JOHN QUINCY Adams, Cuba was a "ripe apple" destined by nature to fall into the lap of the United States. The salivary glands of America's ruling elites have been squirting patriotically ever since. But Cuba's overthrow of U.S.-backed dictator Batista in 1959 thwarted Washington's hearty appetite, creating an irrational obsession that continues to brutally punish an entire population in the name of one man. (Hint: not Saddam Hussein.) American filmmaker Estela Bravo's documentary portrait of Fidel Castro, the perennial Cuban leader who's outdistanced nine U.S. presidents, offers revealing testimony to this American obsession, which explains much of the development of the Cuban Revolution after 1959. But according to Bravo, the only way to understand Castro is either as a "demon" or as a "symbol of resistance and social justice." While her film goes whole hog for the latter, one balks at the recycling of the old, simpleminded dichotomy. Rejecting Jesse Helms-style exorcisms and appreciating Cuba's phenomenal development into an independent and world-historic force in its own right makes perfect sense, but not at the expense of ignoring the very real repression operating within it. By asking no tough questions at all of the Cuban leader, Bravo's otherwise well-researched, lively portrait will encourage hasty dismissals by a population fat on anti-Castro propaganda. This is a shame, since her interviews with the man and close associates like Nelson Mandela and Gabriel García Márquez, or astute observers like Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana – all interspersed with rare archival footage – make for stimulating viewing. In the end, Bravo's love letter still introduces a history all too often distorted from the other direction and promises lively discussion, but take this apple with a grain of salt. See Rep Clock for show times. (Robert Avila)