By Barney Rosenzweig

In the grand cosmos of filmdom, if asked about a movie portraying one of history’s horrific tyrants, readers of these columns might well gravitate to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Perhaps Broderick Crawford’s Willie Stark in All The King’s Men, maybe Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, or Ian McKellen’s Richard III.

Here in Miami, what many refer to as the capital of Latin America, it could readily be understood if the despot who came to the forefront in such a poll was Augusto Pinochet and his nearly 17-year reign of terror that visited Chile in the last century.

Put that story in the hands of an inventive filmmaker who elects to tell this tale in a stylized motion picture, making the dictator even more of a monster than first realized. Imagine: what if Pinochet were a 250-year-old vampire… one who quite literally and figuratively was sucking the blood out of his countrymen?

You could then, if you were enough of a visionary, amplify all of that by taking on the cinematic styling of the films of the German expressionists of the silent era, then bring it all up to date with the reveal that the mother of this horrific monster is none other than the Iron Lady, England’s Margaret Thatcher. Do all that, and you will find yourself smack in the middle of El Conde… one of the more surprising motion pictures of this… or any other year.

Do not make of this review more than it is. This picture is not for everyone. Still, it is a lot more than I ever thought I was getting into when I naively sat in that darkened room to see Pablo Larraín’s brilliant piece of political satire.

You may know of Larrain from such Academy nominated films as NerudaJackieSpencer, or No, but you will have to wait a long time to see him top this latest work. El Conde can be screened on Netflix in the original Spanish; steel yourself.

Also from Latin America is the Academy nominated feature, Society of the Snow… the story of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed while attempting to cross the Andes mountains. This is a true story of heroism, sacrifice, and the will to live, magnificently and emotionally recreated by director J.A. Bayona and his wonderful ensemble of young actors. Once again the viewer finds himself in Chile, this time with a straightforward narrative that emulates a great documentary. Once again, your Netflix subscription proves its worth.

Golda, a motion picture starring Helen Mirren, presents this reviewer with some problems of objectivity and memory. It was not that many years ago that I hoped to produce the play Golda’s Balcony by William Gibson with actress Annette Miller. Someone else got the privilege of mounting the play in New York with Tovah Feldshuh where it had a record-breaking run. There was also the version of the same events written by my friend Renee Taylor in her An Evening with Golda Meir.

Both Renee’s version and playwright Gibson’s were, in my judgment (and to the best of my memory), far superior to this motion picture, directed by Guy Nattiv from a screenplay written by Nicholas Martin.

The failure here is one of simple storytelling. There is a vast amount of stuff that makes up the life and times of Golda Meir and this skimpy flick doesn’t even attempt to scratch the surface.

The film focuses on events in and around the Yom Kippur War of 1973. It assumes, more than fifty years after the fact, that its audience will know who Moshe Dayan is/was, and what this once dashing figure meant to millions of Jews all over the world. “The fog of war” takes on even greater significance in this overly confusing depiction of events. None of this, I hasten to add, is Helen Mirren’s fault.

Ms. Mirren is always interesting, and I will forever be grateful to her for the kind words she has often shared with her public about the influence of my series, Cagney & Lacey, on her own career. It is not because of her that this movie is as flat as it is. Even great actresses need dialogue and, if memory serves, both Ms. Taylor’s one woman show, and Gibson’s play relied heavily on memoir material that is in the public domain and therefore available to screenwriter Martin. Some of that material could have been… should have been… in this movie.

Golda Meir was one fascinating woman but most of that came through her great wit… unfortunately, little of that comes through in the screenplay of this motion picture which, if you must, you can see on Amazon Prime or Hulu.

As to wit and political savvy, nearly two years before he died in a Siberian prison camp, a documentary was produced featuring Alexei Navalny, the Russian opponent of Vladimir Putin. It is also on Amazon Prime and Hulu and you should see it.

The 98-minute documentary clarifies… assuming you had some doubt… just what it was Mr. Putin had to fear from this charismatic, camera-ready individual who believed his destiny was to confront the current corrupt regime in “Mother Russia” and to ultimately engage the country in a debate about its future.

The film also reveals shocking details of the plot to assassinate Navalny… shocking, not only in its purpose but in the stupidity of the perpetrators. It also predicts (naively) a brighter future… one, which we now all know, Navalny did not live to see.

True, the film does not go so far as to show Putin, cape unfurled, flying over Moscow in a quest for blood before sunrise, but this is, after all, a documentary, not political satire. Besides, who among us really knows what happens in the Kremlin after dark?


2008Tony ManeroYesYesNo
2010Post MortemYesYesNo
2015The ClubYesYesYes
2023El CondeYesYesNo

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