Enjoying his 22nd year in power, Iraq's Saddam Hussein has one of the longest-running dictatorial gigs on the planet, and former French talkshow host/journo Joel Soler has made an unexpectedly jocular expose of the Bastard of Baghdad in "Uncle Saddam." Much closer in tone to "Hard Copy" or "E! True Hollywood Story" than to a "Nightline" or BBC investigation, brief pic takes a scattershot, unstructured approach. But the wealth of unique archival material (much of it smuggled out of the country) and interview snippets with members of the president's inner circle provide much to fascinate and amuse, now matter how haphazardly they are used. Hour-long running time and lightweight approach dictate a career on international tube outlets rather than on the bigscreen.
In its revelation of Saddam's boundless megalomania, pic seriously underplays the larger horrors of his regime and ignores geopolitical matters. Evidently presuming that prospective viewers are amply aware of Saddam's barbarism toward the Kurds, the Kuwaitis and his own people, Soler has chosen to focus upon his subject's overweening ego, obsession with his place in history, abject bad taste and, above all, his personal eccentricities.
Via clips apparently lifted from Iraqi TV and other domestic sources, Saddam is presented as a peasant thug who has surrounded himself with fellow country bumpkins (many of whom he later bumps off, as he does family members) and is now intent on being remembered, pharaoh-like, for centuries to come through his program of building massive monuments of staggering kitschiness.
After a rapid resume of his crime-ridden rise to power, Saddam, looking every inch like the Godfather, is seen dispensing banal morsels of "wisdom" to cowering yes-men and adoring citizens.
One highlight from the germ-phobic leader: Women should bathe twice as often as men "because the female is more delicate than the male and the smell of the female is more noticeable than the male."
Saddam himself is said to bathe frequently, a good thing considering that the customary greeting requires visitors to kiss him on his armpits.
Passing quickly over such little matters as Saddam's hanging of Jews, murder of in-laws, the long war with Iran and personal amassing of vast riches (making him the seventh-wealthiest world leader) despite the international trade embargo that has victimized most Iraqis, docu dwells on his vanity (he dyes his mustache regularly), eating habits (as with the old Chinese emperors, a food taster samples every item Saddam is to ingest), fishing technique (he's seen lobbing hand grenades into a lake, with divers jumping in to retrieve whatever floats to the surface), godlike self-regard (his redone family tree makes him a direct descendent of the prophet Mohammed), paranoia (he has an underground airplane runway) and construction projects (aside from his more than 21 palaces, he has significantly rebuilt the ancient city of Babylon and is erecting the world's largest mosque, with four minarets taller than the Eiffel Tower and a central island in the shape of Saddam's thumb).
Narration written by Scott Thompson ("Kids in the Hall") and delivered by Wallace Langham ("Veronica's Closet") leans to the flippantly cute; absurdist, lifestyle-oriented look at the tyrant's career would be more amusing if not for the knowledge of the suffering he has dispensed to a degree greatly disproportionate for the leader of a country of only 20 million people.