Edge of Democracy, The (2019)

A largely engrossing crash course on how the current Brazilian political landscape, warts and all, came to be in this incisive Oscar-nominated documentary.  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Petra Costa
2019 | Brazil | Documentary/History | 121 mins | Portuguese & English
PG13 (passed clean) for some mature themes

Plot: Political documentary and personal memoir collide in this exploration into the complex truth behind the unraveling of two Brazilian presidencies.
Awards: Nom. for Best Documentary Feature (Oscars); Nom. for Grand Jury Prize – World Cinema Documentary (Sundance)
Distributor: Netflix

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Politics, History
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Making it into the final five nominees of the Best Documentary Feature category at the Oscars earlier this year, the Netflix acquisition The Edge of Democracy is the perfect crash course on Brazilian politics for those into the subject matter. 

After reading a bit about the state of politics in Brazil (much of which stemming from how Brazilian filmmakers are currently cruelly stifled by President Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial right-wing conservative), I thought now is a good time to dive into Petra Costa’s third feature documentary. 

For a political noobie like me, The Edge of Democracy is largely engrossing and not difficult to absorb.  Costa’s approach, a balance between depicting the macro landscape, warts and all, of Brazilian society and politics, as well as the personal stories of her parents and grandparents, is an incisive one. 

“A Greek writer said that democracy is only working when the rich feel threatened. Otherwise, oligarchy takes over.”

By sharing their stories, particularly how they were both at odds with each other in terms of their political views, as well as their ‘contributions’ to nation-building, we are given some kind of historical context on the impact of dictatorships and the prevalence of corruption. 

Juxtaposing the past with the democracy that marked Brazilian politics since the early 2000s, through first-hand access to interviews with two of its most significant figures—ex-Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff—The Edge of Democracy eschews pure journalistic objectivity for a more self-serving work that occasionally resembles that of a political-thriller. 

If this had been a fictive reimagining, one might feel the echoes of Costa-Gavras reverberating, though that might be far too kind a compliment.

Grade: B+



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