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Venice 09: Oliver Stone's South Of The Border
Posted on Sunday September 6, 2009, 17:15 by Damon Wise

Following hot on the heels of Michael Moore's latest came another politically charged documentary from a controversial American director – Oliver Stone, this time with a brisk look at the state of South America, with particular focus on Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Called South Of The Border, it makes a neat companion piece to his Fidel Castro movie Commandante, but it's a much leaner and slightly more distanced work that raises some interesting points about the USA's nearest neighbours. There's a lot crammed in here, which makes it feel a bit overloaded with information, but Stone is a surprisingly low-key presence as he moves from country to country, interviewing their leaders in an informal but still somewhat deliberately arch Frost/Nixon style.

Chavez emerges as a sympathetic but still slightly sinister chap, and his childlike willingness to perform for the camera is very much at odds with his military demeanour. Stone doesn't probe too much, but he does, quietly and effectively, put across that Chavez isn't simply a Saddam-style despot who's putting out the welcome mat for Al-Qaeda. After Chavez, the film makes whistle-stop tours to Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and others, with the effect that this breathless film actually actually starts to feel like it's speeding up before your very eyes.

Unusually for Stone, it's not a polemic, and its 'message', if you can call it that, is simply one about the power of community. As Michael Moore says in Capitalism: A Love Story, individuals are more effective when working for the greater good, and Stone ultimately leaves us with an intriguing snapshot of a continent that is finally pulling together at a crucial time in US history. It's interesting that, amid a montage of clips showing Chavez being savaged by the US media as a power-crazed, thug dictator, the most memorable moment is newsreel footage of Chavez, who's meant to be the Third World buffoon here, publicly (and hilariously) calling George W Bush a “donkey” in front of the United Nations. You don't have to approve of his dubious human rights record, but you have to admire his balls.

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