March 5, 2018  (Web Review)

General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

Criterion, 90 min., not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Filmmaker Barbet Schroeder went to Uganda in 1974 to make a film about one of the most brutal dictators in the world: Idi Amin, who murdered an estimated 300,000 citizens during his reign as “President” of the African nation. The subtitle “A Self-Portrait” is reasonably accurate, given that this 1974 film was made with the full cooperation of Schroeder’s subject. Apart from a few brief facts periodically delivered by a narrator, this is Idi Amin in his own words, making impromptu (and often incoherent) rambling speeches, finding common cause with Hitler and vowing to destroy Israel, staging military exercises with a ragtag force, and playing the glorious leader being “honored” at events that he himself arranges for the cameras. Amin approved of all the footage shot in Uganda so the documentary offers only a cursory portrait of the country, but it’s an often fascinating profile of megalomania and ignorance. It also showcases the odd charm of the dictator in scenes that grow more uncomfortable after it becomes clear that the slightest mistake in Amin’s presence (anything that might contradict or upstage him) could result in death. In many ways, this film is a nervy stunt that could have gotten the filmmakers killed, but it has lasting value as an unfiltered look at an evil man—a smiling, clownish figure with unlimited power and no moral restraint. Extras include archival and new interviews with Schroeder, a new interview with author Andrew Rice on Idi Amin’s regime, and an essay by film critic J. Hoberman. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)