Petra Costa’s “The Edge of Democracy” is an eerie and poignant documentary about the ups and downs of Brazilian politics. It is direct and visceral.
Taking the form of a memoir in voiceover, Costa’s voice is as apprehensive and haunting as singer Laurie Anderson’s.
Costa relates that her father and mother were fighters for freedom, during a 20-year dictatorship. They went to prison and later vanished underground. As a young girl, all Petra wanted was to live in freedom. With the new millennium and the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known simply as Lulu, a charismatic left wing politician freedom seemed at hand.
Unfortunately, to be secure in the election, Lulu aligned himself with the corporate company Petrobras. It was a deal with the devil. Still, the nation’s economy soared. But a new conservative rebellion was beginning, carnivorous and scary. At the end of his term in 2010, a former rebel from the left was elected, Dilma Vana Rousseff, known as Dilma, earnest and progressive.
There was dancing in the street. Happy days were definitely ahead in what seemed a true democracy, something entirely new. But then an unforeseen event occurred: Dilma lowered interest rates and the economy plummeted.
The right wing was outraged.
Dilma is called in for endless impeachment hearings while Lulu is sentenced to prison over the gift of a luxury apartment without solid evidence. The scandal is known as Car Wash.
Lulu’s stark presidential home is raided, the doors in splinters.
The scenes of right-wing men in suits storming the building of congress are hair-raising and jarring. Expensive wrists are raised in combat. Such scenes will call to mind our own Trump Republicans, running into the Capitol during the first impeachment hearings.
To make matters worse, religious evangelists mix with the packed crowd causing confusion and ire with the left Workers Party. It is civil war.
Lulu and Dilma become Kafkaesque figures with no control and Petra can only watch.
The space age buildings of Brasilia, as geometric as a Buddhist mandala become eclipsed by a right wing harvest moon.
If one has connections to Brazil, named after the wood of the great tree, the film is tough viewing, but there is wisdom in in it and it is a cautionary tale for Trump America, now under the sway of nationalism and blind fervor.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org