An essential if incomplete look at the triumphant grassroots campaign of Bolivian president Evo Morales, “Cocalero” reps a fine debut for Alejandro Landes. Brazilian-born, U.S.-trained Argentine resident brings a trans-Latin American perspective to understanding Morales’ efforts to unify Bolivia’s coca farmers, miners’ unions and indigenous poor for an unprecedented national coalition. Political discussions seldom go deep, though, and filmmaker’s own conflicts with Morales got lost somewhere on the cutting-room floor. A must-have for any serious Latin American or doc-themed fest, pic could find offshore tube buyers, though U.S. market will turn its back.
Landes’ agile camera tracks Morales’ campaign from its small-budget start through Bolivia’s poor highlands, and observes this former coca farmer’s wily ability to connect with deep-pocket donors. A side story with local congressional candidate Leonilda Zurita suggests how Morales’ MAS party has empowered Bolivia’s marginalized minority. Though seen as an ally of Venezuela president Hugo Chavez, Morales appears to be a much less egocentric figure and able to voice a more effective anti-American line, even though Landes keeps little of Morales’ stump-speaking for the final cut.