The Edge of Democracy




A warning about the loss of freedom centred on Brazil but far wider in its implications.

Edge of Democracy, The


There is so much turmoil in the world that even in this age of the internet many people in this country will be largely ignorant of the dramatic events that make up Brazil's political history in the 21st century. Consequently, this feature documentary made by Petra Costa over the last three years or so will for many be first and foremost a useful source of information. Nevertheless, this is a film which works on two levels: on the one hand it deals specifically with the losing battle to establish true democracy in Brazil and on the other it is a work which reveals fascinating and disturbing comparisons with events in other parts of the world - not least in Britain and in America today.


Costa, herself a Brazilian and already an established documentarist, has given us a subtitled film but even so offers a detailed personal commentary in English. Two Brazilian former presidents are central here: Luis Inácio Lula da Silva known always as Lula who was in office from 2003 to 2010 and the country's first female president who succeeded him, Dilma Rousseff. Costa tells us that she was nineteen when Lula was elected and as the daughter of radical activists, she saw his appointment as a promise of democracy which has in the event proved to be a short-lived dream. The Edge of Democracy is highly supportive of these two and of their aspirations but aware nevertheless of how compromises with big business and questionable strategies came to be the price of survival in office even as the public became increasingly concerned over corruption in government. 


Consequently, the film is partisan but it is not uncritical. However, it goes on to reveal in detail how right-wing opponents led demands for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and also for the arrest of Lula without any adequate justification for the charges which were nevertheless upheld. Ironically, key figures in this such as Michel Temer and Eduardo Cunha would themselves face arrest on corruption charges later on but their actions had already helped to bring to power the current anti-liberal president Jair Bolsonaro, a figure in the Trump mould ("We'll build a new nation") and Sérgio Moro. In the hearing that led to Lula receiving a prison sentence, Moro was both prosecutor and judge, a duality that horrifies Lula's lawyer Geoffrey Robinson and to add to the bitter irony Moro is now Brazil's Minister of Justice and Public Security.


Despite the telling presentation of the many crowd scenes and the contrasted emptiness of the presidential palace in Brasilia seen as a visual metaphor, when judged as a work for cinema The Edge of Democracy arguably seems more akin to an essay for television (the frequency of the commentary adds to that feeling). Furthermore, a little trimming of this work lasting around two hours would be beneficial, especially near the close. But these are small points and the film is valuable on both of its levels. If Costa's portrait reveals that corruption is so endemic and inbred as to make Brazil a special case, we are simultaneously aware of witnessing a society which, no less than Britain over Brexit, is divided down the middle with each side utterly hostile to the other. The warning that democracy may be a lost cause is seen to apply not only in Brazil but wherever far right attitudes are gaining ground and increasing their grip.




Featuring  Dilma Rousseff, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Michel Temer, Eduardo Cunha, Jair Bolsonaro, Sérgio Moro, Geoffrey Robinson, Petra Costa.


Dir Petra Costa, Pro Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan, Screenplay Petra Costa, Carol Pires, David Barker and Moara Passoni, Ph João Atala, Ed David Barker, Tina Baz, Jordana Berg, Joaquim Castro and others.


Busca Vida Filmes-Netflix.
121 mins. Brazil. 2019. Rel: 21 June 2019. Cert. 12.