'South Of The Border' an Exercise in Oliver Stone Egotism

Critics say the movie is more about its director than South America, its subject

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This weekend sees the release of "South of the Border," Oliver Stone's on-the-road documentary on the "phenomenon" of Hugo Chavez and the leftward shift in Latin American politics. The documentary is something of a political biography of South America, as Stone interviewed several political figures, including Evo Morales of Bolivia, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Raúl Castro of Cuba. The film has garnered significant attention for its casual portrayal of leaders generally regarded as dictatorial by the United States and Europe, especially after the film bombed at the Venezuelan box office. With the South American vote decidedly in on Stone's latest flick, North American writers are casting "South of the Border" as a self-serving exercise in egoism rather than a serious example of docu-journalism

  • Informative, But Naive  The New York Times' Steven Holden writes that as far as political documentaries go, "South of the Border" proves "a cheerful surprise" compared to the paranoia of past Stone productions. "As anyone who remembers 'JFK,' his 1991 film about the Kennedy assassination, can attest, Mr. Stone has his own paranoid tendencies," quips Holden, "but they are muted in this provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism." Holden finds the film extremely informative, Hugo Chavez's casual jokes abut Iranian nuclear plants to a conversational Stone. "Because so little has been made in the United States about South America’s leftward continental drift, 'South of the Border' is a valuable, if naïvely idealistic, introductory tutorial on a significant international trend," concludes Holden. "It ultimately proffers the vision of a pan-South American union that is economically and politically strong enough to realize the Bolivarian dream."
  • A Poor Inquiry  The A.V. Club's Keith Phipps thinks Stone has fallen way short of his goal of disabusing Western viewers of preconceptions about Latin American politics: "Those looking for anything that suggests the emerging leaders of South America are working toward—and achieving—anything but a classless utopia will have to search for evidence elsewhere. Stone’s film, more an act of boosterism than inquiry, is a tremendous missed opportunity. A lot of change is afoot in South America, most of it going underreported in America, and misrepresented by outlets with vested interests, like Fox News. But Stone uses Fox’s most outrageous claims as evidence of deeply ingrained prejudice against South America’s shift to the left."
  • It's All About Stone  Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickerson is slightly unnerved by Stone's overtly left-wing slant and vocally-stated goal of countering the "blatant misrepresentation [in the American media] of what Mr. Chávez has done." "South of the Border" is rife with both egoism on Stone's part, and delusions of journalistic integrity:
If the goal was to portray the true Hugo Chávez -- the man behind the much-vilified persona -- the movie is far from a success. After having seen the film, I know a lot more about Oliver Stone than about Chávez, who is mainly seen spouting one-liners and proclaiming the glories of the Bolivarian Revolution. Stone gives himself far more than half of the film's dialogue, and not just the narration. He had unprecedented access to the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, and Paraguay. But the questions he asked were softballs and seemed interested far more in his understanding of the world than theirs.

More troubling is how South of the Border masquerades as journalism. Why not tell us what Hugo Chávez's agricultural policy actually is, rather than simply showing a cornfield, the fat stalks rustling in the wind?
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