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terça-feira, 17 de novembro de 2015

Review: ‘Democrats,’ Chronicling Politics in Zimbabwe

“To be called a sellout in Zimbabwe is to be condemned to death.” This observation delivered with a dry, matter-of-fact tone comes late in the director Camilla Nielsson’s outstanding, unsettling documentary “Democrats,” a film that chronicles recent efforts to put a constitution into place in that country.

Shot over three years, the movie begins with archival footage and on-screen text that do a good job of acclimating viewers who may not be familiar with the political situation in Zimbabwe. Here’s the short version: Since the country gained independence in 1980, it’s been ruled by the autocrat Robert Mugabe. In 2008, compelled by international scrutiny over what many saw as a sham election, Mr. Mugabe was forced to share power with his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai. That situation led to the formation of a committee to draft a constitution that would push the country’s government closer to a Western-style democracy.
Ms. Nielsson and her crew had exceptional access to the two men steering the constitutional process: Paul Mangwana, representing ZANU-PF, Mr. Mugabe’s party; and Douglas Mwonzora, a representative of the Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.). Both men are lawyers, and they each make a great show of being happy warriors, as it were, and approach each other with often deferential friendliness. But an indication of how big a struggle one side faces comes early on. At an outreach session held in a rural province, an unusually large number of citizens proclaim that only the president ought to be permitted to appoint judges.
What is happening here? Are the Zimbabweans of the old school, veterans of the war that won their country its independence, so flush with nationalist pride that they revere Mr. Mugabe so? Or is the whole process being rigged by Mr. Mugabe’s secret service? Ms. Nielsson’s handling of the events silently stresses that there are no simple answers to those questions.
The fits and starts of the process put the opposing representatives, both charismatic fellows, through some fascinating changes. Mr. Mwonzora winds up in jail during a particularly crucial point of constitutional drafting, while Mr. Mangwana haplessly finds himself in that dangerous position of being termed a “sellout” later on. Ms. Nielsson’s cameras take us only so far behind the scenes; Mr. Mugabe’s own conference rooms are never entered. But the portrait of passionate people struggling to improve their government is urgent, vivid and satisfactory. Both inspiring and upsetting, “Democrats” is, finally, a film that deserves to be called “necessary.”


“Democrats” is not rated. It is in English and Shona, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

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