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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Fidel (2002)

"Nothing will ever change here without revolution."
- Fidel Castro (Victor Huggo Martin)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: May 20, 2002

Stars: Victor Huggo Martin, Gael Garcia Pernal
Other Stars: Patricia Velasquez, Cecelia Suarez, Manuel Sevilla, Maurice Compte
Director: Davit Attwood

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, brief nudity and sexuality
Run Time: 03h:25m:16s
Release Date: May 21, 2002
UPC: 707729115199
Genre: historical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B C+

DVD Review

Biographical films are a questionable lot, and more often than not seem to serve only to glamorize and deify an individual unnaturally, while glossing over truthful imperfections that don't fit into a predetermined storyline. I tend to avoid this genre like the plague, because I generally find blatant aggrandizing to be a bit much to swallow. Fidel Castro, a man generally vilified as the controlling dictator of Cuba since 1959, would seem at first to be an odd choice as the subject of this mostly glowing bio-pic from director David Attwood. Based on the book Guerilla Prince by journalist Georgie Anne Geyer, Fidel surfaced in 2001 as a Showtime mini-series, and is presented here as a self-contained 206-minute film.

Growing up in the United States in the 1960s, the name Fidel Castro was synonymous with evil; we were literally taught to think of him as the enemy, though as of late his name may have lost some of its marquee villainous luster, as names like Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden have taken over that spotlight. Castro was more than a painful thorn in the side of the U.S., and his alliance with the Soviets in the early '60s escalated the threat of atomic warfare to exceedingly dangerous levels. Sure, our own government (or at least a government-sponsored wing) tried (unsuccessfully) to invade Cuba, and may have been involved in an assassination plot or two against Castro, but that was because he was evil, right? Imagine my surprise when I settled down to watch Fidel, Attwood's largely positive treatment of the Cuban leader. I can't claim to know how much of the screenplay has creatively molded history to present Castro in such a light, but the first 150 minutes have, at the very least, made me rethink my perceptions of the man.

The story here starts in 1949 Havana, with young lawyer Castro (played here by Victor Huggo Martin) developing the roots of his desire to see a revolution—designed solely for the advancement and improvement of the lives of the citizens—to overthrow the Batista regime, which was indeed heinously oppressive. The bulk of Fidel centers on the 1950s, when Castro went from an utopianistically thinking citizen to a political demagogue upon his ascension to power in 1959. Along the way, he overcomes obstacles, becomes an icon, and partners with another major revolutionary, Che Guevera (Gael Garcia Bernal).

Martin's Castro is extremely likeable and agreeable, and it's hard not to empathize with his seemingly against-all-odds scheme for revolution. His performance is what holds this film together, and whether or not I was manipulated by the script, I found Martin's portrayal of Castro to be inspiring. This goes against everything I had ever been taught about the Cuban leader, and it was slightly unsettling to identify so strongly with the character. When he meets with assorted downtrodden Cubans, it is with an intense gaze and completely undivided attention that shows him to be not only revolutionary, but charismatic. As presented here by Attwood, Castro is a man with whom the dream of making Cuba a better place, without the intrusion of external forces (re: the U.S.), was an all-consuming vision.

Production values are in line with premium made-for-cable films, which automatically puts it head and shoulders above any made-for-network schlock. It has a cinematic feel, thanks in part to Attwood's use of oddly framed shots and sometimes stark lighting. Gun battles are bloody, and play out with a properly chaotic vibe. Fidel was largely shot on location in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, but it passes easily for what seems to a be a realistic-looking Havana.

It's not until the final thirty minutes or so that Fidel begins to hint at what has become the more familiar dark elements of the leadership and ham-handed control of Castro, and the story jumps from 1965 to the Mariel boat lifts of 1980 in a heartbeat. I would have liked to see Attwood tackle another couple of hours devoted to the post Bay of Pigs-era Cuba, where he could have more gracefully followed Castro's downward spiral of his harshly controlling "revolutionary humanism."

This film made me really re-think my preconceived ideas about Castro; personally, I enjoy when a filmmaker can do that. Were the facts "Hollywood-ized"? I'm not a student of political history, but I imagine the answer would probably be a resounding "yes." Regardless, this is a radically different look at one of the 20th century's most infamous leaders.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Artisan's 1.33:1 image transfer on Fidel is true to its original broadcast format on Showtime. The cinematography of Francesco Varese makes dramatic use of what is made to appear as natural lighting, and the result of that is a pleasing mixture of shadows and sunlight. Fleshtones have a deep golden hue to them, primarily reserved for Castro and his co-revolutionaries, while Batista is bathed in harsh shadows, and rarely shown in direct light. The overall transfer is quite clean, with just a few visible blemishes near the end of the film's second hour. Image detail is strong, with some shadow delineation forcing a bit of a murky look to some of the night scenes.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: With only a 2.0 Surround track available, your options are a little limited here. The good news is that this is a very workman-like mix, and the material is presented cleanly with a minimum of fluff. A few planes circle around the rear speakers, and occasionally a bit of the score seeps in, but in general the action remains up front. Dialogue is clean, but any type of noticeable imaging is negligible. The low end lacks any substantial kick, but its absence isn't a major detriment.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. John F. Kennedy's Speech On The Cuban Missile Crisis
Extras Review: Chaptering on this three-hour-plus film is a little low, with just 36 stops. Bios on the cast and John F. Kennedy's pivotal speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis from October 1962, while nice additions, are both presented in microscopically tiny print and painfully hard to read. No trailers or subtitles are provided.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

For a man who has been labeled as a tyrannical dictator by the U.S. government, the Cuban leader is painted in a very human light in Fidel, though it does apparently dance around some of the harsher elements of his regime. The focus here is really the origins of Castro's rise to power, and he comes across as a single-minded and righteous man working only for the betterment of the Cuban people. Whether the lines of history have been blurred for the sake of drama, I can't say, but the story here is told well by Attwood, and Victor Huggo Martin makes for a very likeable and idealistic Castro.



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