THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SOUTH OF THE BORDER"
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may have been a dud, but at least Oliver Stone has one 2010 movie to celebrate. His documentary South of the Border is now on DVD courtesy of Cinema Libre Studio. The filmmaker has, of course, long been fascinated by politics, and in this film he takes a look at the situation in South America, where he believes a revolution is taking place. While this may sound dry on the surface, Stone packs his movie with enough provocative insights to keep the audience invested.
To make his point, Stone set out to visit five countries, where he got impressive access to their leaders. He talks to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Brazil's Lula da Silva, Argentina's Cristina Kirchner, and more. It is amazing how candid and open these people are with Stone. They have things they want Americans to know about their political views, which may help explain their willingness to be interviewed by the filmmaker. All of them express a strong desire to make changes that will benefit the poorest individuals in their respective societies.
You have probably heard about these subjects, especially Chavez, who has been slammed as a "dictator" by George W. Bush among others. South of the Border posits that the general American impression is wrong, fueled by sloppy media reporting and political bias. The film's central message seems to be that it's wrong to judge leaders of other countries based on our own political ideals. That is to say, Chavez and the others are trying to do what they believe is right for their individual countries, not what might be most prudent for the United States. At one point, Stone comments on Venezuela's human rights record, noting that countries considered to be friendly with the U.S. have more human rights violations, but are given a pass by the government because of that friendliness. He also argues (of course) that the U.S. wants to have some control of South American politics for reasons of self-interest, regardless of whether this creates a better or worse situation for those who actually live there.
Whether you agree with the documentary's positions or consider them nonsense, it nevertheless remains a thoroughly compelling viewing experience. We get to hear Chavez, Morales, et al in their own words, free of the interpretations of reporters, pundits, or politicians. As you might expect, Stone revels in asking probing questions of his subjects. He also reveals their distinctly human sides. One of the highlights is an unguarded moment where Chavez rides a bicycle, only to have it collapse under his weight. The President heartily laughs it off.
The conclusion drawn is that these South American leaders are moving in the direction they think their countries need to go. They believe sweeping changes are necessary. Is Hugo Chavez really a dictator, or is he someone willing to fight tooth and nail to solve the issues that plague Venezuela's citizens? However you end up feeling about it, South of the Border is a fascinating, pointed documentary that will challenge your assumptions.
The DVD from Cinema Libre comes with bonus features, including Stone's additional questions for Chavez, deleted scenes, two South American TV interviews with the filmmaker, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and "Changes in Venezuela," which explores Chavez's reforms and the impact they have made on the poor.
( 1/2 out of four)
South of the Border is unrated but contains some mild language and some bloody images. The running time is 1 hour and 18 minutes.