The chaotic opening images of Rachel Boynton’s documentary show crowds of Bolivian’s rioting in the streets, guns firing, rocks being hurled at soldiers. The camera pans over to a man slumped up against a wall, blood dripping down into a pool next to him. Then the film flashes back a year to Bolivia in the throws of a presidential election, anger and unrest brewing and immediately foreshadowing the violence to come.
Our Brand is Crisis charts the involvement of an American political strategist firm headed by James Carville and Jeremy Rosner, helping the main candidate and ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, nicknamed Goni, try and win back the presidency during the 2002 election. As the opening images suggest, the political climate in Bolivia changes from bad to worse, and Boynton has an all access pass to the subjects during and after Goni wins, then resigns because of growing violence in the streets a year later.
The subject matter feels timely, but the presentation of the characters doesn’t invoke much interest. The American’s of course come off like arrogant, know it all pricks who back the right guy but with disastrous results. Goni lives up to his reputation as high and mighty, a person of big busines and not the people. But as we later learn in the epilogue, the president after Goni has to resign some 20 months after Goni leaves, continuing on the cycle of political doubt in Bolivia. The film tries to show this process as a product of the stereotypical political campaign by the Americans, filled with negative adds and focus groups.
Not sure I agree fully. Goni seems to be using the American’s for what he needs, strategy toward winning, and nothing to do with actual governing. In the end, the angry peasants would rather have action, not double-talk. Our Brand is Crisis doesn’t have much new to say about U.S. foreign involvement in third world countries, instead reinforcing the downbeat and pessimistic vision most foreigners have concerning American foreign policy. While probably true, what’s the point when your film feels general and disinterested itself.