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TV Reviews : Two Not So Gentle Views of Fidel Castro's Cuba

August 08, 1990|ROBERT KOEHLER

For most people--Cubans included--Fidel Castro is Cuba. What happens when he dies?

This is the overwhelming question left in the viewer's mind by both hourlong films that make up "Castro's Cuba: Two Views" (tonight at 9 on Channels 28 and 15, and 8 p.m. on Channel 50).

It emerges in Jorge Ulla's and master cinematographer Nestor Almendros' "Nobody Listened" from images of the bitter faces of Castro's former comrades, free after decades behind bars and smelling blood. It's no less clear in Saul Landau's "The Uncompromising Revolution," which shows Castro's aging face and graying beard, symbol of how the winds of global change may have passed him, and Cuba, by.

Landau is an old friend of Castro's--he always calls him "Fidel," a leftover from the halcyon '60s when the worldwide Left had a love affair with Cuba's anti- Yanqui revolution. So Landau doesn't ask his friend about death, but, gently, about retirement. Castro doesn't return the gentility; he rips the microphone off and ends the interview.

Cuban exiles Ulla and Almendros, had they been able to interview Castro, wouldn't have been so gentle. But the differences between the two films have been overtouted in the advance publicity: Both works show a promising national birth called "The New Cuba" gone corrupt. Indeed, Landau's left credentials allow him to get inside the country's workings far deeper than "Nobody Listened," and expose a Cuba in deep, internal breakdown.

As Landau travels with Castro on a pre-arranged tour of model industries and institutions (a pre-arrangement that Landau lets us in on), it's clear that Cuba isn't working very well. Workers look bored. The lights go out in an optics factory just as the "commander-in-chief" arrives, and no one knows how to work the back-up generator. (This in a country on a crash program for nuclear power.) Workers building a huge medical center tell Castro that the winches they're using are no good; never has this master of media control looked so chagrined on-camera.

All of this makes Landau wonder if Cubans can live up to Castro's dream of a pure communist society. Landau knows they can't until Castro, the father figure, the ultimate caudillo , is gone. And even then, he's not so sure.

Ulla and Almendros are concerned less with Cuba's fate than with the victims of Cuba's own gulag archipelago of prisons and labor camps dotting the island. While Castro denies to Landau that any Cubans have been "disappeared," Ulla and Almendros document cases to the contrary. A long line of survivors of prison and torture testify to a barbarous system of "rehabilitation": Convicts unwilling to bend to the state live in feces-laden squalor. Human-rights activists consider Cuba an outlaw nation.

"Nobody Listened" is a dark contemplation of what happens when power is ruthlessly grasped. It is sad, but it is also crudely propagandistic in a way Landau's film never is. While one is an understandably angry harangue, the other is the disappointed letter of an ex-lover. Castro won't be pleased with either.

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