The President, a little prince among paupers
by Camillo de Marco
- VENICE 2014: The film marks the return of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, exiled in London, with a parable on violence, inspired by the "Arab Spring"
To show his grandson just how powerful he is, the dictator picks up the telephone and from the top balcony of his palace overlooking the city he makes all of the lights in the streets and houses go out. As if it was a game, he makes them come back on and then off again. But suddenly in the darkness flashes of the first gunshots and bombs begin to appear. The uprising has begun.
The President [+see also:
interview: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
film profile], selected in Horizons at the Venice Film Festival, marks the return of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, exiled for years in London, with a parable on endless violence. Inspired by the "Arab Spring" that brought about the downfall of the regimes of Ben Ali, Gheddafi and Mubarak, while triggering a dramatic spiral of brutality, the film depicts a ferocious dictator who is forced to flee, in a twist of fate, and to take refuge among those whom he had had imprisoned and tortured.
Makhmalbaf sets his metaphor of power and of a complex but potential reconciliation in an unidentified Muslim country in Caucasia. In fact The President was filmed in Georgia and narrated in the language of this former Soviet Republic. Following a Chaplinesque Great Dictator-type beginning, the hounded despot (Misha Gomiashvili) embarks on his odyssey together with his grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili). The child, known as "Royal Highness" at the palace, is in turn used to calling his Grandfather “Your Majesty”, and this causes trouble when the two fugitives disguise themselves first as humble shepherds and later as street musicians. Brought up in the palace as a young prince from days gone by, the young boy now observes with horror the violence of the popular rebellion, but also the deep-seated signs inflicted by his Grandfather’s regime on a country that is dying on its feet. His grandfather shows no signs of remorse when the two become mixed up in a group of former political prisoners returning home. One of these will in fact try to save "the President" from lynching: "when I was tortured, you were his soldiers and you filled homes with his portraits!". The road to democracy – suggests the Teheran director all too patronisingly – is more difficult than we think.
At times fantastic (quotes from Benigni’s Life is Beautiful), at times crudely realistic The President doesn’t have the symbolic power of many of Makhmalbaf’s films which focus on the identity of the Iranian people or of his powerful Kandahar (2001). The movie is produced by the director’s very own Film House with Georgian 20 Steps Productions, British F&Me in co-production with Brummer & herzog Filmproduktion and Bac Film which is managing international distribution with its distributive department.
(Translated from Italian)