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February 3, 2005

General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

I finally took the sage advice of Jonathan (scroll down to the comments) and the cinetrix and rented General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait last night, and as they both note, Idi Amin is a fascinating subject. General, directed by Barbet Schroeder, portrays Idi Amin as utterly sociopathic but also as oddly innocent and charming (see David Ehrenstein's Critereon essay). Schroeder made the film with General Idi Amin's complete co-operation, and although Amin clearly seems to think that the documentary will be sympathetic, Schroeder's camera constantly reminds us that the audiences that seem to adore him are clearly fabricated.

There is a frighteningly humorous scene in which Amin sends a telegram to the leader of Tanzania, telling him, "I want to assure you that I love you very much and if you had been a woman I would have considered marrying you although your head is full of gray hairs. But as you are a man that possibility does not arise." According to the cinetrix, Amin demanded that the scene be cut from the film, and Schroeder complied at the time, restoring the footage after he was deposed. There are scenes showing Idi Amin gleefully playing the accordion (Schroeder even gives Amin a credit for composing the film's music). There are scenes showing General Amin dissing other world leaders, including Henry Kissinger. And yet the film constantly reminds us that Amin was one of the most brutal dictators in recent history. Fascinating, disturbing stuff. A really amazing documentary.

Posted by chuck at February 3, 2005 9:33 PM

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