“A film about a future that looks as bleak as our darkest past.”
Documentary filmmaker Petra Costa’s latest film, The Edge of Democracy, chronicles the controversial democratic presidencies of left-winged politicians Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Lula’s election was significant in Brazil, as it would be the first time in 30 years that Brazilian citizens could directly vote for president, following 21 years of dictatorship rule. Given that Lula came from a working class family, and presented himself as representing the working class, it is easy to see why many voted for him and succeeded in winning him the election.
At the end of his successful term, Lula was succeeded by Rousseff, his personal choice, who was expected to continue moving Brazil towards having a stable democratic system. Things started to shift, however, when certain controversies, including money laundering from an oil company, were uncovered by the federal police of Brazil, in an act dubbed as “Operation Car Wash.” What followed was a long and tiresome campaign for Rousseff’s impeachment, which divided Brazilian citizens apart and sent their political system out of control. As a result, Rousseff was impeached, and and Lula was sentenced to twelve years in prison, which he is currently serving at the time of this documentary.
Walking into this film, I was not entirely familiar with the political background of Brazil, and this film was exceptionally informative. While watching, however, I found it nearly impossible to not think about the current US political climate. Perhaps it was due to the popular push for Dilma’s impeachment, or the possible sexism regarding Rousseff’s impeachment. Who knows, maybe it is the Trump masks being worn by people celebrating Jair Bolsonaro’s taking the leadership from Rousseff, or the literal construction of a wall to separate both sides of the impeachment protestors. But what the film finely covers, in my opinion, is the deflated hope that comes with political corruption and abuse of power. Costa shows how hard this particular controversy hit Brazil, because what began as a push for Democracy, turned into a war between both wings of politics, all with showing little consideration for the people.
In approaching the subject, Costa throws her own conflicted political view into the mix, stating how hopeful she was at 19 when Lula got elected. This reminded me that I was 18 when 2008 US Presidential election, which is when I started to pay attention to politics. I also remembered how ecstatic the country went when Obama won, given that we just came out of the Bush presidency, and this seemed to be a move toward progression. The charisma of people like Obama, however, can blind citizens to what goes on behind the scenes (Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 refreshed my memory of the horrible things that happened during Obama’s presidency.). I remain neutral when it comes to politics, because neither the left or the right wing is perfect, and I appreciated how Costa, while complimenting Lula for his accomplishments in office, reminds us that he cannot escape responsibility for his laundering.
On a technical standpoint, the movie is exceptionally well-constructed. Costa gives the film a heart-breaking emotional edge with her voiceover, and one can feel her deflated hope as she goes through the timeline. It’s even more unnerving when see see footage of Rousseff’s impeachment debate, because it looks like a combination of a circus and a day on Wall Street.. It is also amazing Costa got to her subjects, using footage of Lula provided by his personal photographer at the time. One of the most pivotal scenes is her filming her mother’s personal meeting President Rousseff, who she related to in having been incarcerated in the same prison during Brazil’s previous dictatorship rule before Lula. It is And if that is not powerful enough on it’s own, Costa also includes drone footage overlooking the Brazilian Nation Congress, as well as all of the citizens rioting across the lawn, stating that it is “a future that looks as bleak as our darkest past.” Doesn’t that feel kind of familiar to what’s going on here in the United States?
The Edge of Democracy is equal parts a fascinating and fearless documentary. It properly exhibits just how chaotic political corruption can be not only for the country, but more importantly, how it affects the people under that rule, and how it can divide them. The film’s multi-layered storytelling is both informative and tragic, and makes not only a fulfilling watch, but also an alarming wake up call.
The Edge of Democracy is currently streaming on Netflix.