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CUBA: AN AFRICAN ODYSSEY (Cuba, une odyssée africaine) (TV) (director: Jihan El-Tahri; cinematographer: Frank-Peter Lehmann; editor: Gilles Bovon; music: Freres Guissé; Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; Facets; 2007-France/Germany-in English, Swahili, French, Spanish, Russian with English subtitles)
“An informative but dry history lesson on Africa’s move for independence during the Cold War period.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An informative but dry history lesson on Africa’s move for independence during the Cold War period. It’s helmed by the Egyptian Jihan El-Tahri (“Behind the Rainbow”), who worked for French-German television ARTE. Its historical value is in the presenting of footage never seen before of African unrest and of the compelling footage of Fidel Castro’s personal take on the events. It was a time (1961-1991) when the United States, though not a colonizer, aggressively sought African natural resources, while the Soviet Union attempted to utilize African countries as allies for Communism and to give the West a hard time.

It offers in great detail how the CIA arranged for the assassination of the democratically elected left-wing Congo leader Patrice Lumumba, who overthrew the Belgian colonizers, by using his army commander Colonel Joseph Mobutu. This takes place in 1961 only six months after Lumumba took office and got into hot water with the military for turning it over to the Soviets.

It tells of Che Guevara representing Castro’s Cuba in the Congo, as he is disguised in 1965 as a clean-shaven businessman in a suit and thick-rim glasses, who sneaks across Lake Tanganyika into the Belgian Congo/Democratic Republic of the Congo and will teach the leftist MNC, who were Marxists like Patrice Lumumba, how to fight a guerrilla war. But Che had little success, and exits Africa after only eight months. Other wars in Africa, like the ones in the poor Portugal colony of Guinea-Bissau, the oil rich Angola and neighboring Namibia were fought with more success. In the end, with the imminent collapse of the Soviet empire, a peace treaty is drawn up between Cuba and South Africa and America (during the last days of the Reagan administration; the treaty gets Cuba out of Angola and Namibia, and the South Africans release apartheid foe Nelson Mandela after a long imprisonment of 27 years).

For those not after entertainment but an educational film, this one effectively and in a clear-headed manner takes us behind the scenes during this tense Cold War period where the East and West engaged in detente and where each side initiated or had their hand in some nasty blood baths, and it also shows how Cuba had a greater influence in Africa than what has generally been reported in America.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”