GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA
Review by Michael Jacobson
Barbet Schroeder December 12,
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
December 12, 2017
am a very good marksman.”
was expecting General Idi Amin Dada to play out something like Triumph
of the Will. But director
Barbet Schroeder is no Leni Riefenstahl. He
doesn’t regard his subject matter with the least bit of awe or reverence.
And, despite his well-earned reputation as one of the 20th
century’s most notorious bad guys, Idi Amin is no Adolph Hitler, either.
watch this film without knowing the history of Amin’s fascist rule over Uganda
in the 1970s is to see the portrait of a man who is self conscious, prefers
talking to listening, has ideas and opinions about everything and is usually
willing to open up his mouth wide enough to display his ignorance.
In short, Amin comes across with as much fake charm as Bill Clinton, as
much self-importance as Bernie Sanders, and as much buffoonery as Al Franken.
But consider that none of those three men were behind the murder of some
300,000 to 500,000 of their fellow countrymen, and the picture of Amin grows
ease with the film crew that made this documentary (released in 1974) seems born
from ill-ease. He is willing to
smile, laugh, and present himself as an amiable ruler, but the forcedness of it
all is often apparent. He leads the
crew on a river ride, which shows off some of the beauty of his African nation,
but at the same time, he tries to come across like an expert on the wildlife,
which is sometimes embarrassingly funny (his comment about how crocodiles eat
the ants is a scream). He proclaims
how happy his children are while one of them is bawling ferociously.
He expresses belief that he is doing “God’s work”…and his actions
are just more in a long strain of historical occurrences where horrific deeds
were done in the name of God.
narration adds to feel that Amin is a man spreading the old manure.
We see a shot of him inspecting confiscated rifles, very businesslike in
manner, while the narrator quietly informs us that those weapons had been in
their hands and inspected for some time now.
Amin is staging this for the benefit of his film.
is a man of many words, and Schroeder lets him speak…sometimes it’s the best
way to find out just how full of the proverbial feces they are.
When Amin addresses a group of doctors, his solemn advice is simply
against drinking too much. When it’s the doctors’ turn to speak, Amin is distinctly
restless and fidgety…keeping quiet is not one of his strong suits.
learn many things about the man, including his outspoken anti-Semitism (when a
reporter asks him to confirm that he once said Hitler didn’t do enough
about the Jews, all Amin can do is laugh like it was a great punchline), his
“economic war” in Uganda that sent Asians and Jews out of the country, his
willingness to walk a line between Communism and capitalism without embracing
either, and more. He speaks of all
things with a continued smile and forced charm, as though he were just some chap
discussing politics with you at the water cooler instead of a dangerous and
Jewish sentiments are of particular interest; at one point, he circulates a
“true” Israeli manual about how the Jews would eventually overrun Medina and
Mecca (it turned out to be a false report originally used by the Third Reich).
Unfortunately, this film came out two years before the famed raid on
Entebbe, which made Amin an international joke, but one can still appreciate the
historical irony in the context of what IS contained here.
Here is, after all, a man who openly expressed admiration for the
leadership of Napoleon and Mao Tse Tung, two other rulers whose time in power
saw great massacre and bloodshed.
Schroeder’s style is particularly keen…as mentioned, he expressed no awe or
admiration for his subject matter…if anything, his tone is one of ridicule.
He is clearly not making the propaganda film that Amin thought he was
participating in. As a result, Amin
ordered certain scenes to be excised from the final version of the film, on pain
of the deaths of some 150 French citizens in Uganda (women and children, too),
who were corralled up at his palace awaiting Schroeder’s agreement to the
reign of terror began with and ended with the 70s, and he died an
exile in Saudi Arabia. His legacy
may never inspire the chills of evil that Hitler did, but history has proven
that General Idi Amin Dada had the power to churn and sicken stomachs with the
best of the infamous dictators.
didn’t expect much from the transfer for this film, but once again, Criterion
delivers the goods. The colors from
start to finish have maintained very well over the years:
they’ve stayed bright, clean, and vibrant.
The print is in remarkably good shape, too.
Some grain is apparent here and there, but it seems to be from the
limitations of the film rather than the high definition transfer…it’s not distracting at
any rate. All in all, I don’t think this film has (or will) ever look
audio is fairly standard uncompressed mono…not much dynamic range, a touch of noise here
and there, dialogue clear. In other
words, perfectly adequate but not inspiring either praise or criticism.
The disc features three interviews; two with Barbet Schroeder and one with journalist Andrew Rice.
General Idi Amin Dada is one of the more fascinating political documentaries I’ve seen, and one that requires you to fill in some of the blanks with your own historical perspective. Mix the broad smiling man of this film with the butcher that his legacy proclaimed him to be, and you have a disturbing portrait of one of last century’s notorious dictators. This one’s definitely worth seeing.