SOUTH OF THE BORDER opens with a clip from Fox News in which a cohort of be-spackled talking heads attempts to wrap their minds around the difference between coca leaves and cocaine. It's an unworldly, egregious guffaw, one of several clips director Oliver Stone employs to make the case for the purpose of his film, a CliffsNotes image makeover for seven South American presidents—Hugo Chávez of Venezuela most expansively, but also Argentina's Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Paraguay's Fernando Lugo, President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, and Cuba's Raúl Castro.
As powerful a director as Stone is, South is suspiciously tossed off, like a side project devised to make a vacation seem productive. Stone allows himself a sizable amount of screen time, alternately interviewing and palling around with the dignitaries, occasionally to condescending effect, such as when he interrupts an illuminating conversation with Morales by suggesting the cameras film them playing soccer instead. It's not that it's villainous to attempt to counteract the persistently poor depiction of these leaders by documenting their charms, but put a little English on it.
An investigation of Chávez was the impetus for this film, and a significant portion of its first chapter dedicates itself to a quickie history of his failed attempt at a coup, his subsequent rise to popularity, and the United States' anti-democratic muddling in his nation's affairs. It's interesting material, all the more so as conversation after conversation with these leaders reveal increasing regional unity and a determined push against the pressure to rely on US support, particularly in the double-sided form of the International Monetary Fund. In viewing, it's hardly going to offend the sensibilities of the left-leaning audience that will likely be the only recipients of this one-sided granny shot, but its dual lack of authority and due diligence virtually guarantee its dismissal outside of any crowd not already inured to its devices.