Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Sunday, October 08, 2006

General Idi Amin Dada (Barbet Schroeder, 1974)

French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder was given unprecedented access to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1974, in order to make a documentary about him. In fact, the documentary turned into a self-portrait, so much so that Schroeder put the subtitle "Autoportrait" on the film. Even after editing "acceptable" to Amin, he found out that the European cut showed him in a less-than-flattering light, and took the French citizens in Uganda hostage until Schroeder agreed to change the film to Amin's liking. All this background made for a powerful film of a brutal dictator at the time, but has lost a bit of its power over the years.

As Roger Ebert pointed out in his review, this is not a very good documentary, because of Amin's obsessive supervision. Many of the events in the film, such as a whole village coming out to greet Amin as he arrives in a helicopter, were staged for the film (Schroeder lets us know in the voice-over). Amin is the star of the picture, and almost every scene is just him talking to the camera, or to a group of his officials. He offers his views on Israel and Palestine, but is less forthcoming when asked about his comments about Hitler. Keeping in mind that Amin was a dictator who, in seven years, may have killed up to half a million Ugandan citizens, this is a frightening documentary.

But there is another side to this documentary, and that is the scary fact that Amin is, well, charming. I found myself laughing at his jokes, such as when he jokes that the Ugandan navy, while in a land-locked country, is the pride of Lake Victoria. He plays the accordian, and in fact, produced the score for the movie. He dances with the citizens at dances in his honor. He is shown in a swimming contest, and, in my favorite scene, in a boat on the Nile, waving and talking about the crocodiles, hippos, and elephants abundant in the water. He compares himself to the crocodile, while is eerily correct.

One of the greatest strengths of Schroeder's picture is showing that even though the audience knows all of Amin's evil-doings, he is charming, and we are again reminded that even the greatest evil can have a very appealing face on it. Again, it's lost most of its power thirty years later, when Idi Amin is now a footnote in world history, but this film is an interesting portrait of an utterly interesting man, as staged as it might be.


RIYL: Documentaries, world politics

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Comments on "General Idi Amin Dada (Barbet Schroeder, 1974)"


Blogger Jenna said ... (6:18 PM) : 

Interesting, especially with The Last King of Scotland getting so much oscar buzz these days.


Blogger dana danger said ... (8:31 PM) : 

it's shocking how much forest whitaker looks like idi amin! i mean, really. i meant to add something about that, heh.


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