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General Idi Amin Dada (A Self Portrait): The Criterion Collection

In 1973 French director Barbet Schroeder convinced the enigmatic Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada to participate in a film project profiling his role as head of state of the struggling African country. In 1974 General Amin threatened the safety of 150 French citizens living in his country unless Schroeder trimmed 2 minutes and 21 seconds from the finished product. Schroeder made the requested cuts; when Amin was exiled in 1979 (he now lives in Saudi Arabia), Schroeder promptly restored the footage. This little episode tells more about Amin than anything within Schroeder's film, the content of which was wholly orchestrated and micromanaged by one of the most notorious dictators of the 20th century. Although there is brief footage of the carnage wrought at Amin's command, mostly the film is a showcase for his wide smile and hearty laugh, as the former heavyweight boxer leads the filmmakers (including cinematographer Nestor Almendros) through military exercises, native song and dance exhibitions, a few political meetings, and a nature tour. Amin comes off as a confident opportunist full of shallow crackpot ideas. He gives an absurd speech to a room full of doctors regarding the perils of drinking on duty; he implores his cabinet not to act like women in front of the film cameras; he plans to invade Israel with paratroopers (Amin brags about Arab enthusiasm for his plan to use soldiers on suicide missions during this exploit, adding a chilling tremor of credibility to his boasting). Overall, this is pretty spiffy PR for a man suspected of murdering nearly 300,000 civilians during his eight-year reign. Schroeder has always been a spotty director, with a knack for trenchant black comedy (Reversal of Fortune) but always prone to serious lapses of focus and consistency of vision (Single White Female). Despite the prudent lack of probing, however, Schroeder's film is still interesting as a surface character study of a quirky megalomaniac, along the lines of Madonna's similar exercise in self-promotion Truth or Dare — only Amin's accordion playing is much less likely to break onto the pop charts. Criterion presents General Idi Amin Dada (A Self Portrait) in its native 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a Dolby Digital mono audio mix. Includes a dry half-hour interview with Schroeder, a textual timeline of Ugandan history, and, in the accompanying booklet, documentation of Amin's editing requests. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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