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A nation divided in The Trial

Heavyweight documentary offers ringside access to the 2016 impeachment of Brazil’s first female president

20 August, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, in The Trial

THE TRIAL
Directed by Maria August
Certificate: PG
☆☆☆☆

THIS is an extraordinary documentary focusing on an extraordinary person who finds herself in eye of a national storm: Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, has a track record – she took up arms against the 1964 military coup, joining a socialist guerrilla group. In 1970, she was captured and tortured for two years.

A national icon, she became known for her campaigns for the poor and dispossessed, and was elected as president in 2010, earning the votes of 54 million people.

Director Maria August has ringside access to the 2016 impeachment trial that saw her removed from office under the dodgy pretext that government funds had been misspent on social programmes to boost her Workers’ Party’s popularity.

Her supporters believe the impeachment is a right-wing coup – and aimed not only at changing the country’s political direction but to stymie an ongoing corruption investigation tackling a huge number of politicians across the spectrum, big businesses and foreign investors.

Among those involved are the vice president Michel Temer and house speaker Eduardo Cunha, who happen to also be leading the calls for impeachment.

Coming in at two hours, this is no lightweight documentary – it is as if August enjoyed access so much that each scene of a senator, turning their backs to the camera and making an important phone call, was considered too good to cut. But the enormity of the issue – the stealing of the democracy essentially – deserves to be weighty.

And look at where the country is today: a far-right demagogue ripping up anything that resembles a social contract, the Amazon threatened like never before, equal rights eroded, an out-of-control pandemic where the head of government spends months in denial. It doesn’t look pretty. But what does come over is the brilliant theatre of Brazilian political science: it lays bare, as George Orwell did so cleverly in his book Homage To Catalonia, how age-old world views clash.

Hearing the senators make firebrand speeches as they vote highlights the narrative of left versus right. From the repugnant ones who end each diatribe with a Trump-esque ode of devotion to their patriotic hearts and their love of God, to the brilliant left-winger, deputy Jean Wyllys.

He took the stand surrounded by enemies and pours righteous scorn on their heads, saying: “I am embarrassed to be participating in this farce, this indirect election conducted by a thief, devised by a traitor, a conspirator and supported by torturers, cowards, political illiterates and crooks… this sexist farce… for the rights of the LGBT population, the Blacks exterminated in the Favelas, the rights of artist, the homeless, the landless, I vote no to the coup – and sleep with that, you bastards!”

Such oratory power shows how The Trial split a nation – and prompts you to wonder if the opposition benches in the UK could do with a little more of this type of jostle and swagger provided by Wyllys at the despatch box.

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