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South Of The Border review

Oliver Stone gets chummy with Chavez...

Oliver Stone follows his pow-wows with Fidel Castro – 2003 documentary Comandante and its shorter successor Looking For Fidel – with another partisan love-in, this time with Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez and six other South American leaders of a left-leaning persuasion.

Stone’s contention – that the US media has hysterically demonised Chávez – is hard to refute (unless you happen to work for Fox News, of course).

Yet it is difficult to view his sycophantic treatment as a corrective, especially when it extends to genial kick-abouts and coca munching with Evo Morales of Bolivia, telling Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo he is “a very gentle, very good man”, or spending much of his valuable face time with Chavez blowing smoke up his arse.

Chávez actually comes across as a bit of a plonker, notably during one scene in which he breaks the bicycle Stone has exhorted him to mount for the cameras. (“This is where we are building the Iranian atomic bomb!” he jokes during a factory visit.)

The same cannot be said of Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, a formidable character with little patience for Stone’s casual sexism and who routinely berates her underlings for not bringing papers more speedily. (“Men can be so slow!” she says testily before rebuking Stone for asking about her wardrobe.)

“It’s not necessary to kneel before power,” opines Fernandez’s husband and predecessor Néstor Kirchner.

The Wall Street director apparently feels differently, shutting his eyes to Chávez’s well-documented human rights abuses and crackdown on the media while letting his self-aggrandising parallels to 19th Century revolutionary Simon Bolivar go unchallenged.

There is no debating Chávez is a charismatic figure who revels in being a thorn in Uncle Sam’s side. Yet Stone does his movie, his audience and himself a massive disservice by being his uncritical cheerleader – a role that, over the course of this highly watchable yet infuriating travelogue, comes uncomfortably close to supine lapdog.

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