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The many ways of power

The Lust for Power / The Candidate: The Rise of Emmanuel Macron / Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time
This year's Jihlava festival focused on political film. Several were about heads of state and the electoral processes that led to their victory.


Jihlava's international film festival is a unique event where the east and west of the documentary world meet. This year it also released hybrid films (documentary with fiction / feature film with documentary) – which is new and that can create a trend for similar festivals in the future. Documentary films are increasingly influencing TV shows and feature films, or the "audiovisual landscape", as festival director Marek Hovorka calls it. Still, there were mostly classic documentaries on the program. This year's festival had a major focus on political film, often about heads of state and the campaign process behind their election victory: the opening film The Lust for Power is a portrait of former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Meciar, and the closing film – with the world premiere at the festival – was French The Candidate: The Rise of Emmanuel Macron. Also Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time stood on the festival's program.

Personal standard. The Lust for Power starts promising. Director Tereza Nvotová varies the narrative methods in his decent attempt to explore the mechanisms behind Meciar's popularity and power. "I consider Meciar a key figure in the recent history of Slovakia. The film is also a portrait of an archetype that can be observed in many places in the world today, only in various disguises,» she says. Meciar is not just an example of a standard set in former Eastern Bloc countries; Meciar has become an ideal in parts of the western world as well.

The film opens with beautiful aerial photos of Slovakia's capital Bratislava as it comes to life on an early morning. Nvotova's own voice is heard as she talks on the phone: "Hi, this is Tereza. Can I have a meeting with Meciar? ”Suddenly, the film goes into report form when the director rings the doorbell of the former prime minister and the door is opened by a charming older man. No, he can't really comment on his political life – it's as if he doesn't understand the questions properly and answers with his boyish smile instead.

Mafia methods. Then we follow Nvotova's thoughts in voice-over; she tells us that she was one year old when the Berlin Wall fell. The personal form is pervasive in the film, and with the help of home video and photographs we are introduced to the director's family, several of whom are young, sympathetic theater people. By taking part in these people's life journey, we become acquainted with the political / historical events that have taken place in the country and how they have affected the citizens.

History goes back to the 1990s, a period when a host of political rulers – former members of the Communist Party – skipped the ideological divide and embraced the capitalist system in a way reminiscent of the West. Their political patterns of action are similar to the confusion we have seen, among other things Goodfarenfilms. Secret police appear with face caps and machine guns thrown nonchalantly over their shoulders in public; kidnappings and blackmail attempts take place every single day. The nation is divided. The Slovakians do not wake up until Madeleine Albright tells them that the country will not be invited into NATO or the EU if Meciar continues to sit in power; only then do they take action to remove Meciar from the political scene. Significantly, at the beginning of the film, the director's parents are delighted with his prime minister; towards the end are the active opponents.

Fragmented form. The personal story in the beginning is thus followed by extensive use of material from the news archives and testimonies from the main actors from this politically troubled time. The most interesting of the witnesses is the market manager behind Meciar's election victory. He says it is true: “People would like to think that they are concerned with the political views of the candidates, but that is not what matters. People choose from their emotions. Voting by choice is simply an emotional act. ”

Nvotovás has obviously wanted to tell the story on several levels. She gives us a good portrait of this political predator Meciar, but through its poignant form loses The Lust for Power its visual unity and therefore feels disharmonious. Pinjo's film music makes a valiant attempt to keep the narrative in place, but all in all it fails The Lust for Power in becoming the big movie that apparently has ambitions. Nvotová's film can nevertheless become an important historical film for the Slovak citizens of the future.

Cut and paste. Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time follows the previous US presidential election in chronological order. The documentary is based on the material from Showtime's news documentary series The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth, who throughout 26 episodes and with three program directors commented on the campaigns, elections and debates around the election. The series ended with Trump's election victory in November 2016.

It was a light-hearted decision TV producers Ted Bourne, Mary Robertson and Banks Tarver made when they decided to film a movie of the thousands of hours of footage they put on. Already two months after the decision, the film premiered at the Sundance festival – but the audience response was rather lukewarm: the festival goers had obviously followed the election process closely themselves, and were well acquainted with the film material from earlier. In other words, the movie didn't tell them anything new – for us, on the other hand, who doesn't follow US news broadcasts on a daily basis is trumped an exciting and entertaining documentary.

Political show. It all starts out rather humorous: Program leaders fail to hide their mockery when discussing Donald Trump's ambition to stand as presidential candidate. However, the tone of the film becomes more serious as Trump wins, and editors Brad Buckwalter, Alicia Ellis and Benji Kas have applause for being able to hold on to Aristotle's classic narrative structures through the chaos. Trump's election rallies grow from small gatherings to huge sports arenas where fanaticism boils down to "It's a flavor of a music concert," we hear – in more depth the comments don't go. Trump's ascending journey is viewed with some fascination. "I've been a politician for six months," Trump says, and voters roar in enthusiasm. This bears no resemblance to the arid political debates of the 70s, for those of us who remember so far back; This is Show.

Missing analysis. A big minus about the film is that it does not even experimentally analyze the phenomenon we observe. Trump's outrageous attack on individuals as well as the judiciary is so startling that the media coverage becomes so. The strategy for distracting us from the important topics thus works optimally. Russian intervention and WikiLeaks are only mentioned before the themes are swept aside. Why not get a brief introduction by Paul Manafort, for example, as he enters the stage as Trump's campaign manager? On WikiLeaks' websites you can read that Manafort was an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan as well as George HW Bush, but in Washington DC he is more known as a lobbyist for foreign dictators from Somalia, Angola, Kurdistan, Ukraine and a number of other lawless countries. . This would have been interesting to hear more about, especially now that he is characterized by many as a traitor.

The team behind Macron can hardly have passed the 30, and maybe that is why they are burning so strongly for their cause.

Yes, it is actually hair-raising that a news program like The Circus have failed to delve into these topics during their 26 episodes on the 2016 US election. How can a TV audience be content with such a simplified news program that is basically more like a sports broadcast than a political debate program? What threads are behind the scenes, what power elites are behind Trump, what social and political trends in Europe influence elections, what role does the media play? By only staying in the surface gear trumped an impression that it was Trump's inexplicable charisma that brought him to the presidency. By not examining the causes of the man's success, the film helps to maintain the Trump myth. Much remains to be learned about the power play behind Trump and the role of the media in today's democracies. We hope that in the near future, films will emerge that go into this matter in a serious way.

Ever Epos. French Yann L'Hénorets film The Candidate: The Rise of Emmanuel Macron is a classic cinéma vérité – and in no way does it deviate from this style. With an observation camera, we follow a team of four people who, together with Macron, are hatching a plan to win France's presidential election. The film gives a good insight into their intense collaboration, it shows the loyalty, dedication and unity of every single decision made. The four can hardly have passed the 30, and maybe that is why they are burning so strongly for their cause.

The story evolves chronologically, during which our hero Macron during the campaign process is transformed from young boy to adult and mature man. Besides the protagonist's inner development, there are few, if any, real moments of suspense in the film. The music, free jazz, covers where neither cut nor direction extends, but as a whole it becomes too simple and monotonous. With music as the only dramaturgical aid, no one succeeds The Candidate despite Macron's great fascination.

And the policy? The film could have been used in Macron's own PR campaign, since it only shows his good sides. Macron appears empathetic, hardworking and extremely ambitious. He convinces us all of his good intentions, without disclosing his political views. When the cast comes, we still know absolutely nothing about Macron or his party En Marche !, except that he is opposed by his political rival Marine Le Pen. Camera sweeps over a poster with John F. Kennedy, the only poster hanging in the team room. How should we interpret this? John F. Kennedy is not among the best presidents America has had, but his popularity was enormous and he was young and Catholic. At that time, not a Catholic could become president of the United States, but against all odds Kennedy won the election nonetheless. And so did Macron – in France.

Margareta Hruza
Margareta Hruza
Hruza is a Czech / Norwegian filmmaker and regular critic of Ny Tid.

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