‘The Edge of Democracy’ tiptoes line of memoir and documentary

The fight between democracy and militant government has plagued Brazil for decades. The country, originally run by an oligarchy, slowly found themselves fighting for a representative democracy. They filled the streets, rioted, and supported their chosen leader, Lula. But as the years passed, the people became blind to the destructive forces of their past hidden inside the cracks of their ideal democratic system. The Edge of Democracy, a documentary and part memoir of director, writer, and producer Petra Costa, clearly lays out the steps to Brazil’s recent democratic demise. MTP: 4.5/5


Review by FF2 Intern Maiya Pascouche 


Petra Costa grew up with political parents. They fought against the corrupt regime throughout the 1960-70’s and were even caught, held, and tortured as prisoners – a story that they shared with a soon to be elected president. Groups of workers and the poorest people in Brazil rallied in the streets over their unfair treatment begging for a change in their political system. Finally, a labor party was formed, the Workers’ Party, and the man selected as their first nominee was Lula da Silva, a poor union worker. He was the shining star of the Workers’ Party and proved to have innovative ideas about how to finally mobilize people out of poverty. He won the election in a landslide and the Party helped write the new post-military Constitution, ensuring worker’s rights. Lula served as president of Brazil from 2001-2010 and became one of the highest rated, most popular presidents in the world. He launched many pro-worker programs and managed to lift incredible amounts of people out of poverty, therefore, inciting the lowest unemployment the country had ever seen.


At the end of his second term, Lula declared Dilma Rousseff, a former socialist activist who had been captured and tortured, as his next in line. Dilma had previous experience in politics as Lula’s Chief of Staff, believed in the rights of workers, and was a woman. When she won, she became the first female president in Brazil’s history. Unfortunately, because of her limited political power, she compromised with right wing parties still in control of Congress and agreed to have a member of their party as her vice president. 


Costa slowly reveals the levels of corruption within Brazil’s political system. First, trials against Lula and Dilma begin because of alleged corruption with an oil company and an oil company. Next, Dilma is set to be impeached for such allegations, much of the country turns against her and Lula. Finally, Dilma is impeached and Lula sent to prison. However, Costa lays out every phone call, piece of evidence, and lie that the right wing implanted into the minds of the Brazilian people to turn them against Dilma and Lula. She proves how they were actually the corrupted ones, rotting the democracy of Brazil from the inside. 

The Edge of Democracy clearly identifies each step taken to break apart the newly formed democracy of Brazil. Her light additions of memoir keep it personal and intimate, while the wide shots of thousands of people in the streets remind us of how real and impactful misinformation can be.


The Edge of Democracy – 2019


Q: Does The Edge of Democracy pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

A: Absolutely! There are many conversations between women and abut women. Out on Netflix now!

Tags: FF2 Media

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    • Review Coach Ariana Lippi
    • June 28, 2019

    While trapezing through her own personal history and the modern history of Brazil during her lifetime, I think that the line Costa is walking frames the years of increasing fragility within the Brazilian democratic system and the brittle state that it currently exists in. In order for a large and once very successful state to end up “at the edge of democracy,” it takes much more than a few dodgy politicians. What I think Castro demonstrates through the links she draws from her personal narrative and state history is that the corruption scandals that the public sees are a symptom of the larger problem at hand (as you said, “democracy rotting from the inside). Although Lula and Rousseff were social activists and fought for the middle and lower class, the dealings of their administrations reveal a deeper issue that stems from a multitude of sources — which I don’t think were covered very well.

    Castro says “If Jesus came to Brazil, he would have to make an alliance even with Judas.” So while I think she meant to portray them as having better intentions and the political will to implement programs that uplifted the working and peasant classes, they still could not escape or destroy the larger institutional pressures (as you mentioned, Rousseff did not have enough high-level political support or power to continue or fulfill Lula’s vision).

    The seed of division was planted long before Castro was born and has gemmated and sprouted causing a greater plurality in Brazil than has ever been seen before. So, yes, Lula and Rousseff’s shady political business was overly exaggerated by the right who offered little concrete evidence to inculpate them, but, even Castro herself says that Lula’s track-record was confusing and left her with doubts.

    Lastly, I think that the brief ad-hoc interviews she conducted on the street were useful in understanding the emotion and political zeitgeist during the peaks of unrest. However, I don’t think that they are a faithful representation of public opinion or of the population of Brazil overall. In fact, I deeply wish that she had traveled outside the capital and spoken with people from civil society groups or rural communities both during and not during these political proceedings. Talking to people on the street in the city during protests came across as unintentional to me. The only substantive interview she had with a civilian was with her mother. I did, however, appreciate this and the fact that most of the memorable interviews were with women (her mother, Dilma, and some people on the street). I think that this would have not only rounded out the story but also would have provided her with an opportunity to offer a counter-argument to the narrative she was presenting: a glimpse of hope, an area where democracy is strong, or simply to portray a fuller story to her English speaking audience (who presumably don’t know a lot about Brazil).

    After viewing this memoir/documentary I’m reminded of a quote from Heart of Darkness: “I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream. That’s my nightmare: crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor and surviving,” Castro seems to be living in this surreal dream and watching her life’s inextricable entanglement with the brief successes and terrifying shortcomings of democracy in her homeland, which has tremendous implications on a larger and international scale presently and in the future.

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