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Toward a Third America

South of the Border (2010)

Jose Ibanez/Cinema Libre Studio

When the media and regular folks complain about the Hollywood elite and its ardently left-wing political yammering, Oliver Stone is always one of the first names mentioned. With “South of the Border,” he’s handed his critics a heaping dose of ammo for the rest of his life, as the picture follows the filmmaker on a U.S.-government’s-nightmare journey across South America, meeting with and fawning over Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and other anti-Washington luminaries.

It’s a simple, slanted exercise, dismissing human-rights abuses and other major flaws behind a jocular haze as Mr. Stone bonds with his beloved subjects. There’s only the slightest allusion made to so-called Democratic leader Mr. Chávez’s unfortunate tendency to seize absolute power to control the media, elections and the judicial system. Forget his cozying up to radical Iranian and Syrian regimes. In their stead, Mr. Stone returns with Mr. Chávez to his childhood village and kicks a soccer ball around with Mr. Morales. The director is too agenda-driven, too focused on producing a flip-side rendition of the characteristic distortions and embellishments of the American media to make his points effectively.

The picture looks and feels like a propagandistic exercise, a chance for Mr. Stone to spout off unencumbered by the requirements of narrative filmmaking. Still, if the film’s an exercise, given the fundamental absence of this alternate perspective in standard images of the continent, it’s a useful one: The filmmaker’s unfettered access to South American movers and shakers — Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner are also among those featured — lends the movie the weight of alternate history, the urgency of a rare outlet for dissension and debate.

“South of the Border” also taps into the crossroads at which the United States finds itself, forced by a multitude of factors to face a future world comprised of many powerful national blocs. The days of American hegemony are over, Mr. Stone says, and we’d better start paying attention.


Opens on June 25 in New York, on July 2 in Los Angeles and on July 30 in Britain.

Directed by Oliver Stone; written by Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot; directors of photography, Albert Maysles, Carlos Marcovich and Lucas Fuica; edited by Alexis Chávez and Elisa Bonora; music by Adam Peters; produced by Fernando Sulichin, Jose Ibanez and Rob Wilson; released by Cinema Libre Studio (United States) and Dogwoof (Britain). In English, Spanish and Portuguese, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes. This film is not rated by M.P.A.A. and rated 15 by B.B.F.C.


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