by Vitor Pinto
05/07/2007 - Two political leaders for two fictional assassinations: the Brussels European Film Festival is presenting in competition two mockumentaries that play with the fictional possibilities of the deaths of US president George W. Bush and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Unafraid to cause controversy – or deliberately seeking it as a way to shake audiences’ consciences – Gabriel Range's Death of a President – D.O.A.P. [trailer] (see interview) and Morten Hartz Kaplers' AFR [trailer] (see interview) prove, above all, that real images are privileged material from which to build stories, as well as an immense source of manipulation.
The two films, however, have different approaches. While D.O.A.P is a direct response to the Bush administration and disserts on the tragic consequences of his assassination (those who ever thought that Bush's death would help solve the world's greatest problems will certainly change their mind by the end of the film), AFR is the attempt at an intimate journey into the motivations of a killer, played by the director himself.
Range constructs his script as an investigation, presenting (false) testimonies from Bush's personal staff, Chicago police agents and FBI investigators. Original images have been technically manipulated in order to add or delete characters and place them in a different socio-political context. The idea isn't innovative – remember Forrest Gump meeting with former US leaders? – but it has never before been taken so far.
From this perspective, Kapler's mise-en-scène is less effective than Range's yet still seems reliable. Pity that AFR's theory that behind the crime was a "love that dare not speak its name" is less convincing than the family motivations of some of Range's characters. In that sense, Kapler's film flirts with a soap opera style and is openly emotive, whereas D.O.A.P prefers to maintain its seeming objectivity right through the last scene.
Its distribution seriously restricted and censured in the US, D.O.A.P was produced by Borough Film and backed by Channel 4, the UK channel that seems particularly fond of manipulating reality, from TV show Big Brother to Michael Winterbottom's political docudrama Road to Guantanamo [trailer].