Two docs by Barbet Schroeder on home video
In the wake of Barbet Schroeder’s success with Reversal of Fortune, Warner is releasing six films helmed by the Iranian-born French director. Two documentaries are among the most interesting: General Idi Amin Dada and Koko: The Talking Gorilla.
Idi Amin is a chilling portrait of the former Ugandan tyrant, whose atrocities (summary executions and the mass deportation of Asians) sadly seem less shocking today after revelations about those who followed in his path (Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, for instance). Schroeder’s Amin is a man stunted and made childish by absolute power. In one scene, the hefty dictator takes obvious pride in being the winner of a swimming contest that no Ugandan would dare to win. The documentary isn’t intended to be entirely objective (for instance, the film cuts from Amin to linger on a tree full of bats), but it mostly lets Amin hang himself with his own words.
Koko offers a fascinating look at a gorilla that was taught a working vocabulary of 300 words in American Sign Language (gorillas are physically incapable of speech). A humane, touching picture of Koko and the researchers who work with her, the film makes the case that there are more similarities between our species than differences. Both documentaries are nicely filmed by Schroeder’s longtime cinematographer, Nestor Almendros. Idi Amin: A-; Koko: B