×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Trial’

A documentary that serves as a crucial record of the travesty behind the impeachment hearings of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Director:
Maria Augusta Ramos
With:
Gleisi Hoffmann, José Eduardo Cardozo, Janaína Paschoal, Dilma Rousseff, Michel Temer, Hélio Bicudo, Miguel Reale Júnior, Eduardo Cunha, Romero Jucá, Sergio Machado, Raimundo Lira, Antônio Anastasia. (Portuguese dialogue)

2 hours 19 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7665476/reference

It was always clear to anyone paying attention that the 2016 impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was a diversionary tactic to cover up rampant corruption from across the aisle. Maddeningly, news outlets outside the country spoke more about whether she was qualified for the job — a blatantly misogynistic aspersion generically cast at female politicians — rather than the fact that a rich white male elite had just circumvented Brazilian democracy and staged a coup. The urgent need to clearly narrate these events is behind Maria Augusta Ramos’ remarkable “The Trial,” a necessary observational documentary that follows the senate’s impeachment hearings to their foregone conclusion.

While the film will be recognized as a crucial record of the travesty that was the impeachment process, it must be stated that the complexities of Brazilian party politics, and the more than two-hour running time, mean “The Trial” will have a difficult time luring a broad audience. That’s unlikely to be a problem for Ramos, who’s made nothing short of a nonconfrontational “J’accuse” directed at her country’s government and citizens. Judging by the electrified reaction among the large numbers of Brazilian expat spectators at the Berlin Film Festival screening, the documentary will be compulsory viewing among the diaspora as well as at home.

Patient viewers even without much foreknowledge would do well to stay seated to the end, because while the first half can be hard going, given long sequences of senate hearings, the latter part builds into a riveting spectacle of justice sacrificed on the altar of mammon. In her previous documentaries, notably her exceptional trilogy on the Brazilian justice system, Ramos was able to foreground the human faces caught within a rule-bound, labyrinthine institution; in “The Trial” the feeling is more choral, with various sections voicing their parts, punctuated by shots of Brasilia’s distinct architectural spaces and protesting crowds that act as the entr’acte to each movement.

Ramos begins with public access footage from the tumultuous house of representatives vote, when opposition politicians such as the despicable father-son duo Jair and Eduardo Bolsonaro praise the former military dictatorship as they cast their vote for impeachment on charges that Dilma improperly used her budgetary authority. From then on, the images all belong to Ramos and her DP Alan Schvarsberg as they enter the senate committee chamber where the charges are examined.

The documentary doesn’t identify anyone, so one needs to be familiar with the politicians or pay very close attention, not just to what officials are saying but to the nonverbal groups they form. What’s so striking on merely a visual level is seeing the opposition, all older white males in conservative suits, clearly freezing out the more diverse (though not enough) men and women from Dilma’s party. Spectacularly tainted politicians like Eduardo Cunha and Romero Jucá were allowed to lead the charges, supported by the ridiculous figure of jurist Janaína Paschoal, a melodramatic shill whose flamboyant performances make one wonder if she’s simply lying or truly delusional.

Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo warns that a coup is taking place, but his entreaties are ignored as Dilma is suspended for 180 days while the committee continues to weigh the charges, passing the reins of government to vice president Michel Tamer, a man who invites credible corruption allegations like rats attract fleas. When Dilma herself testifies, her inner strength is evident not only in her manner of speaking but also via the charged glances, like lighthouse beams, she directs at those around her. Ramos isn’t interested here in an assessment of Dilma’s time in office, nor in the charges against her predecessor, Luiz Lula da Silva — that’s fodder for another film. What “The Trial” exposes instead is the way blatantly unscrupulous politicians desperate to save their own skins against corruption charges made a travesty of justice.

Ramos also doesn’t demonize the crowds of demonstrators outside chanting for impeachment, which she balances with protesters supporting the president. Their appearance gives a framework to the proceedings, reminding viewers that what goes on inside the chambers has an external impact. For the doc’s first half, Ramos’ non-interventionist style can have the numbing feeling of Frederick Wiseman’s beloved board meetings, but her careful unemotional calibration aids the film’s build-up, opening the path of indignation and allowing the audience to charge down its contaminated byways all on its own.

Popular on Variety

Berlin Film Review: 'The Trial'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Dokumente), Feb. 21, 2018. 139 MIN. Original title: “O Processo.”

Production: (Documentary – Brazil-Germany-Netherlands) A Nofoco Filmes, Autentika Films, Conijn Film, Canal Brasil production. Producers: Maria Augusta Ramos, Gudula Meinzolt, Paulo de Carvalho, Wout Conijn. Executive producer: Ramos.

Crew: Director: Maria Augusta Ramos. Camera (color): Alan Schvarsberg. Editor: Karen Akerman.

With: Gleisi Hoffmann, José Eduardo Cardozo, Janaína Paschoal, Dilma Rousseff, Michel Temer, Hélio Bicudo, Miguel Reale Júnior, Eduardo Cunha, Romero Jucá, Sergio Machado, Raimundo Lira, Antônio Anastasia. (Portuguese dialogue)

More Film

  • Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks

    Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks Silence After D.A. Dropped Charge

    Lucia Evans gave a wrenching account on Tuesday of her efforts to hold Harvey Weinstein responsible for sexual assault, saying she felt betrayed after the Manhattan D.A.’s office dropped her allegations last year. Evans spoke to Variety after giving a speech at a conference on influencer fraud in Manhattan, making her first public comments on [...]

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Nahnatchka Khan'Always Be My Maybe' film

    'Fresh Off the Boat' Creator Nahnatchka Khan Signs First-Look Deal With Netflix

    Netflix has signed “Fresh Off the Boat” creator and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan to an exclusive multi-year first look deal for feature films. Khan made her feature film directorial debut with “Always Be My Maybe” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. The romantic comedy premiered on Netflix in May and was seen by 32 million [...]

  • The Mover

    Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Costa Rica Announce Oscar Contenders

    Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro and Costa Rica are the latest countries to announce their entries for the newly rebranded International Feature Film award at the 92nd Academy Awards. All four countries are seeking their first Oscar nomination in what was formerly known as the foreign-language film category. Latvia has selected Holocaust drama “The Mover” (pictured) as [...]

  • The Sky Is Pink

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Sky is Pink'

    Shonali Bose’s much-laureled 2014 “Margarita with a Straw” was a film whose presentation of a cerebral palsy-afflicted heroine sidestepped all the usual hand-wringing inspirational clichés of disability portrayal, making her story all the more enlightening and affecting. It is particularly disappointing, then, that the director’s followup should approach another tale of genetic infirmity with all [...]

  • Jodie Turner-SmithVariety Studio Comic-Con, Day 1,

    'Queen and Slim' Star Jodie Turner-Smith Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' (EXCLUSIVE)

    After she plays the Bonnie to Daniel Kaluuya’s Clyde in Universal’s romantic thriller “Queen and Slim,” actress Jodie Turner-Smith will join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Turner-Smith will play Karen Greer a possible love interest to Jordan’s character. As recently announced, Jamie Bell will also co-star as Robert Ritter, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content