Though she is a scrupulous and dogged digger-up of hidden facts and a thoughtful interpreter of public events, Costa hasn’t produced a work of objective journalism or detached historical scholarship so much as a personal reckoning with her nation’s past and present.
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While the film often feels like a slow-motion real-world horror story, it’s not without hope. For Brazil, liberty once existed. Can it exist again? And what does that mean for the rest of the world?
Costa’s use of news footage, tapes of incriminating conversations that were made public and acts of self-serving betrayal gives The Edge Of Democracy the feel of an All The President’s Men-style political thriller. Further revelations about her own family and the allegiances of earlier generations turn that aspect of the story into something with the sweep of The Godfather.
At what point does a story about one failing democracy become a story about all failing democracies? Perhaps there’s no way of knowing until it’s already too late.
While the film provides a useful record of a specific chapter in this ongoing nightmare, as an investigation it comes up with few new insights that can help us make sense of it.
The Edge of Democracy makes no claims to objectivity. This is documentary cinema in which facts tangle compellingly with feeling, while passages of solemn, stately mood-building split the difference.
A mournful but clear-eyed look at one of the many governments on the planet currently either going to or simmering in Hell, Petra Costa's The Edge of Democracy is as much essay film as a primer on Brazil's recent history.
What “Edge” is especially good at is detailing how Costa gradually began to see things differently, to see the corruption investigation as an attempt by the oligarchy to reassert itself, to take power via a kind of legislative/judicial coup because it could not do so by the ballot.
The documentary’s scope is so vast, and its subject so dense, that it ends up skimping on details that a lengthy written article would likely lay out more clearly.
In laying out the facts, Costa is, for the most part, posing a series of sad questions rather than supplying the answers; in truth, she may not know whether she’s documenting a stormy political era or chronicling the end of something.