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Review: 'Cesar's Last Fast' focuses on the myth, not the man

Review: 'Cesar's Last Fast' focuses on the myth, not the man
A photo of Cesar Chavez. (Cathy Murphy)

The documentary "Cesar's Last Fast" covers much the same ground as the dramatized "Cesar Chavez" released last month. Both center on the labor leader who in the 1960s helped to form the United Farm Workers union, organize the California grape workers' strike and foment a nationwide boycott of table grapes.

Although "Cesar's Last Fast" extends the coverage by two decades, the same criticisms lodged against "Cesar Chavez" are applicable here: Richard Ray Perez's documentary concerns the myth more than the man.

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Perez has made a commendable effort rounding up archival footage, photographs and interviewees. To his credit, he does intimate that Chavez was not without failings. Chavez's particular set of leadership skills served him better as a revolutionary than as a honcho. Once the union had attained its hard-fought contracts with as many as 200 farms and 70,000 workers, it unraveled amid internal and external conflicts. Interviews with present-day grape pickers in the epilogue indicate that Chavez's causes persist.

In focusing on Chavez's 36-day hunger strike, though, the film renders his convictions and the cultural forces mere footnotes. The higgledy-piggledy timeline also yields little insight. The interviewees — consisting mostly of Chavez's family and former associates — don't provide sufficient perspective on the physical toll of the prolonged fast that constitutes the film's focal point.

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"Cesar's Last Fast"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

CORRECTED: An earlier version of this post contained an incorrect byline for Sheri Linden.

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