The Trial


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Trial
"Definitely not for dabblers - but for those with more than a passing interest in the corruption and misogyny which, in part, led to Jair Bolsonaro's rise to power, it's compelling viewing."

Some documentaries can feel like primers, skimming the surface and inviting viewers to look further into a subject. Maria Ramos' deep dive into the trial that surrounded the impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is anything but and definitely not for dabblers - but for those with more than a passing interest in the corruption and misogyny which, in part, led to Jair Bolsonaro's rise to power, it's compelling viewing. If you are looking for an accompanying documentary to fill in more of the backstory, Petra Costa's The Edge Of Democracy is a good place to start.

Ramos - who has a history of examining the justice system in her country with films including Behave and Justice - does briefly set the scene with intertitle cards explaining that, following her re-election in 2014, Rousseff found herself embroiled in claims surrounding fiscal decrease and farm subsidies. It's quickly apparent that these claims were largely devised to stop scrutiny of her political opponents' own corruption and it's here that the film's immersive approach pays off. While the back and forth between various senators, defenders and prosecutors is dense and a lot to chew on, visually the film captures a great deal about the workings of politics in Brazil.

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We see how supporters appear like football fans who have backed a team, right down to chants and colours, and get a sense of the way the media has created the air of a reality TV show around the situation. The oppressive atmosphere of politics is also brought home by the gaggles of male, pale and, it must be said, stale politicians back-slapping and smirking over affairs as inglorious figures like Eduardo Cunha - since jailed for corruption, although at the time of writing at home due to the pandemic - lead the charge against Rousseff.

"The game is rigged," one of Rousseff's supporters says near the beginning and it's hard not to disagree as a sense of railroading permeates all the proceedings - we also get a feel for the genuine conflict among her team that even participating in the process somehow legitimises it. That reality telly vibe is particularly underscored by law professor and jurist Janaína Paschoal, who we see physically limbering up before she speaks. No wonder, since every time she gets near a microphone, it's a command performance, cloaked in the love of her country and with tears to finish the job - a little emotional trick she appears to have on tap. What also emerges is Rousseff's intellect and poise, reflected not just by her own bearing as she gives evidence but in the physical nervousness she generates in those who oppose her.

The shots away from the hearings may seem extraneous initially but they become a welcome punctuation mark between the complex hearing proceedings that allow the viewer to catch a breath. Nevertheless, at more than two hours long, this is so dense that it is hard-going in places, especially at the beginning but Ramos' documentary gathers momentum as it goes and is a vital consideration of manipulation of politics that should be heeded as much outside of Brazil as within it.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2020
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Documentary following the impeachment proceedings against Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.

Director: Maria Ramos

Year: 2019

Runtime: 140 minutes


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If you like this, try:

The Edge Of Democracy