Hugo Rethought – Oliver Stone examines the South American revolution

 Director Oliver Stone and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez talk to the media in Stone's documentary "South of the Border." Courtesy photo


Director Oliver Stone and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez talk to the media in Oliver Stone’s documentary “South of the Border.”
Courtesy photo

First Fidel, now Hugo.

Director Oliver Stone doesn’t mind incurring the wrath of the mainstream media with his documentaries, which he has recently been releasing in between his studio features. “Finding Fidel” and “Comandante” attempted to rescue Castro from decades of demonization, with Stone sitting down and chatting up Cuba’s leader. In the new “South of the Border,” Stone travels down to Venezuela to do the same thing with Hugo Chavez.

The brisk and informative “South of the Border” begins with the talking bobble heads of Fox News’ morning show, snarking about how Chavez must be insane because he eats a bowl of cocoa every day. The most intelligent of the three hosts steps in to bravely ask if they mean coca. Nobody is really sure, and who cares, right? (Knowledge is so elitist.) It’s a scene that promises to melt your brain right there and then, and then make one despair for modern media in general. But after a quick history lesson on the West’s finagling in South America, Stone brings in Hugo Chavez and sits down with the man we’ve been led to believe is a bloodthirsty monster.

It’s not the most amazing of interviews, and Stone often just seems like a guest getting a tour of a rental property, nodding politely, expressing interest. He does get directorial in one moment, taking Chavez back to his hardscrabble childhood home and having the leader ride around the backyard on a tiny bike. (The bike breaks under Chavez’ weight).

What’s more important, and what makes “South of the Border” imperative viewing, is Oliver Stone’s overview of Chavez’ rise to power, his nationalizing of the oil industry, and his weaning off of the American teat. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are the villains here, and as the second half of the doc shows, have an interest in keeping South America in debt.

If you’ve ever paid off a huge credit card bill you’ll know that panicked calls from the banks soon follow. (I had mine worrying if I was going to “leave them” for another company.) On a worldwide scale, that is what happened with Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner, who freed his country from IMF debt.

“South of the Border” shows how Chavez’ revolution led to similar ones in Bolivia (which now has its first ever native-born leader), Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil. These leaders are not names in our nightly news, and they are not friends with American business interests. Therefore they either don’t register or they turn into enemies. “South of the Border,” whatever you may think of Chavez, at least provides enough information about an entire continent that would make Fox’s Morning Show’s talking heads’ heads explode.

‘SOUTH OF THE BORDER’
***½
Starring: Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro, Rafael Correa, Cristina Kirchner and Evo Morales
Director: Oliver Stone
Length: 102 minutes
Not rated
Playing at: Plaza de Oro

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