(I know this comes across as a political rant rather than a review. But my point is not the politics of the movie, it is the way movies like this are created, the vacuity of their viewpoints.
I'd be just as angry if the movie were it's mirror image, centered on "the noble FNLA and their South African allies engaged in an ultimately futile but heroic attempt to liberate Angola".)
I have some personal interest in this movie insofar as I was growing up in South Africa during the Angolan civil war, and (as a kid, then a teen) heard occasional talk of South African involvement.
So I was hoping for something that gave some insight into the war. But that's not what's on offer here. Instead what's on offer is one long apologia for how great the MPLA were, and how awful UNITA and the FNLA were. I certainly have no complaint about the second part, UNITA, and Savimbi, were pretty ghastly. But that does NOT make the MPLA the heroes of this story.
We hear a constant stream of claims.
* How 90% of the population supported MPLA (well, WTF knows in 1976, but when elections were finally held in 1992 MPLA received 49.57%, UNITA 40.6%, with the majority of complaints about unfair voting against MPLA.
We hear about FNLA child soldiers, but MPLA apparently did the same thing. A Google search for Luis Samacumbi will tell you the story of two kid brothers, one grabbed by MPLA, one by UNITA. (BTW Kapuscinsky's heroine, Carlotta, joined the MPLA when she was 15 so...)
* While UNITA+FNLA was indeed backed by the US and South Africa, it was also backed by, tada, China...
* As for civilian deaths or massacres, it's impossible to give even approximate numbers as to which side was responsible for what, all that's agreed upon is that both sides appear to have been pretty much equally enthusiastic about engaging in such activities.
What IS clear (even if you're an unrepentant strong leftist) is that on 27 May 1977 there was an MPLA internal reaction against the leadership, followed by the usual arrests, secret courts, and executions (at least 20,000, perhaps as high as 70,000).
How did the MPLA do as a government since 1976, both at times when the war was fierce and when it calmed down, and then eventually ended? Well, you know the story. Lots of oil, lots of diamonds, lots of astonishingly poor people. And of course home of the richest woman in Africa who (I'm sure this is just a bizarre coincidence) happens to be the daughter of the ex-president...
* One final bizarre detail. The movie keeps harping on the fact that Kapuscinsky was supposed to report that the South Africans had invaded, but this was suppressed and "The world denied it". I've no idea what this is talking about because the NYT, on October 24, 1975, a day or two after the South Africans crossed the border, carried on article on precisely this issue.
It seems that Farrusco's real compaint is not ethical, that "the world" denied South African intervention, but military, that (most of) the world acknowledged the intervention but also (correctly) saw both sides as irredeemably awful, and chose not to intervene.
(And note that the same people so concerned that "the world must know about South Africa in Angola" are even more concerned that "we must keep secret the presence of Cuba in Angola"...)
BTW that hysterical assumption that if the US knew about Cuba they would, what, nuke Angola?, was as ridiculous as the assumption that South Africa was in it to recolonize Angola then the rest of Africa. The CIA was well aware that the Cubans were involved in Angola, as we know from the National Intelligence Daily reports published at the time.
It's probably, as a general principle, a silly idea to betray what you claim are your principles on the assumption that the CIA doesn't know something that's clearly obvious to an organization that can track ships and planes, and has spies and satellites...
I mention all this not because I'm a great fan of UNITA, the FNLA, or the South African Government or the CIA, but because I think the whole slant of the movie is despicable.
The slant SHOULD have been that this was a war between two awful, awful sets of human beings, with basically nothing decent on either side. Absolute monsters who chose to keep the war going for 27 years essentially for their own petty purposes.
To portray it as the valiant, MPLA, blameless stainless embodiment of the people against the grasping capitalist UNITA intent on nothing but stealing from the country, is pure propaganda. Kapuscinski may have made many friends among the MPLA, but that's not the same thing as the MPLA being on the right side of history -- you can find plenty of memoirs talking of individually decent German soldiers who made friends with the other side in PoW camps or wherever.
The valorization of this movie (the awards, the rave reviews) show, IMHO, viewers who know nothing about the conflict, but are happy to have all their prejudices confirmed. As far as I can tell, they consider the movie greate because:
Yes, this was all the fault of outsiders and every Angolan involved had neither agency nor responsibility;
yes the leftists (aka the good guys) won in the end; and
yes, the most important thing about these conflicts is not that they are represented in a historically accurate way which might allow us all to learn something, but that they can serve as catharsis and growth for one writer.
And if to achieve that requires grotesquely misrepresenting the larger historical truths, well, that's art for you! 500,000 dead but we're meant to interpret the entire conflict through the lens of the death of Carlota, a cross between Angela Davis, Ulrike Meinhof, and Leila Khaled...
I'm pissed off at all this because the world doesn't need yet another sappy bildungsroman movie centered on the personal story of how some individual faced trauma and grew; we already have approximately ten million movies like that. This COULD have been a movie about how awful war is, especially when is so pointless and led by such awful leaders; it could have been a general investigation of why so many people engaged in so much insanity for so long.
But we got nothing original, just a cartoon story of cartoon villains and cartoon heroes.
As long as movies like this tell these wars not as stories of pure evil, but as stories of supposedly fine decent people (Carlota, Farrusco, the entire MPLA apparatus) engaged in justifiable violence on the side of good, we're just going to get more wars. You stop war by saying, "No, it was NOT worth it. It was a dumb strategy, pursued selfishly, that destroyed the country for at least two generations." Not by saying that it was all a fine honorable idea.
If you think I'm being too harsh, do a web search for Artur Domoslawski, who wrote a biography of Kapuscinski that says, among other things, he had an, uh, complicated, relationship with the truth, just as he had an, uh, complicated, relationship with Polish intelligence. (I'm guessing this is the same Artur, somewhat more cynical and realistic about Angola, who appears in the movie, but I'm unable to precisely validate that.)