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The Edge of Democracy
★★★★☆
First run Theater cinema

Petra Costa’s fascinating first-person documentary provides a compelling inside look at the political turmoil that has been afflicting Brazil for several years. It is the third film in a loose trilogy by the Brazilian actress and documentarian, whose work often straddles fiction and nonfiction as she investigates her unique family story. Her first picture, Undertow Eyes (2009), explores the stories and history of her grandparents. The second, Elena (2012), centers on two sisters whose identities begin to blur into each other—it was the most watched documentary in Brazil in 2013. The far more substantive The Edge of Democracy began with Costa covering the marches for and against the impeachment of Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff in 2016. But with her unique access to her country's leaders and wielders of power, Costa continued to dig deeper and deeper into the history she thought she understood and believed she was a part of. 

At 36, Costa is roughly the same age as her country’s fledgeling democracy, which officially began in 1985 when Brazil returned to civilian rule after two decades of authoritarian military governments. Costa is the daughter of Marxist radicals who went to prison for their opposition to the military junta that once controlled the country, but she’s also the granddaughter of wealthy construction industry magnates whose fortune propped up (and continues to support) the corrupt oligarchy that never stopped ruling Brazil. This heritage places her well to understand and convey both ends of the political spectrum and she is able to get amazingly close to many to the key players of this multi-sided fight.

Most significant is her access to the two former presidents: the imprisoned Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the impeached Dilma Rousseff. We hear a lot from them, but we also hear from Costa, who narrates the film in English in a mournful, slightly affected tone that is nonetheless gripping. She fills us in on her country’s complicated history and her family’s place in it. We follow her perspective on events as it changes over time.

Of course, this film is told from one person’s perspective. There is no way one feature-length movie could cover the complex, multi-year, slow-motion breakdown of Brazil’s democracy. But Costa always makes clear that what we see and understand through her film is what she sees and understands. And she’s very clear when she is dubious about some politician’s claims or feels unsure of what to think at certain times. This is not a Michael Moore style documentary where the filmmaker cherry-picks only the facts and scenes that bolster their pre-determined agenda.

This vital film about a deeply polarized country that is splitting apart due to corruption, manipulation of facts, and a total lack of faith in government has a lot to say to American viewers and audiences around the world. The picture is a powerful and tragic documentation of an optimistic nation blessed briefly with the most popular president in history quickly falling back into the dictatorship that oppressed it for so many years.

Twitter Capsule:
Costa's powerful first-person perspective on a deeply polarized nation splitting apart due to corruption, manipulation of facts, and lack of faith in government has a lot to say to American viewers and audiences around the world.

Directed by Petra Costa
Produced by Petra Costa, Tiago Pavan, Shane Boris, and Joanna Natasegara

Written by Petra Costa
Co-writers Carol Pires, David Barker, and Moara Passoni

With: Dilma Rousseff, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva, Sergio Moro, Jovair Arantes, José Eduardo Cardozo, Eduardo Cunha, Eduardo Bolsonaro, Eduardo Cunha, Jair Bolsonaro, Michel Temer, and the voice of Petra Costa

Cinematography: João Atala and Ricardo Stuckert
Editing: Affonso Gonçalves, Felipe Lacerda, Isabelle Rathery, Tina Baz, Idê Lacreta, David Barker, Karen Harley, João Atala, Jordana Berg, Joaquim Castro, Eduardo Gripa, Bruno Jorge, Bruno Lasevicius, Dellani Lima, and Virginia Primo
Music: Rodrigo Leão, Vitor Araújo, Gilberto Monte, and Lucas Santtana

Runtime: 121 min
Release Date: 19 June 2019
Aspect Ratio: 1.78 : 1
Color