Early in Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s ‘The President”, I found myself looking for for specific references to the ‘unnamed country’ that ends up undergoing a coup and wondering who is the omniscient narrator taking us through a spectacularly lit city square. We are told that another capital punishment is about to take place under the tyranny of a dictator, a man referred to only as His Majesty. Signing off on these death sentences, he plays a silly game with his young grandson to show off his authority by turning the lights on and off in the entire city, and then the lights literally go out on his regime. As the film moves forward, we realize it doesn’t really matter where this is happening since this is an allegory and the country we see represents many others.
The President, or His Majesty (Misha Gomiashvili) seems to be the last one to realize that the severe political unrest underway in his country is about to lead to his removal from power. After his son-in-law is murdered, his wife (Eka Kakhiani) and two daughters (Nuki Koshkelishvili and Elene Bezarashvili) are exiled but his young grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili) refuses to leave his grandfather’s side. Leaving the airport, their limousine is detained by the violent protestors that have blocked the streets, and their attempt to return to the palace is stopped. Finally, the President’s men are overthrown, and the ruler must flee and there is a huge ransom on his head. We spend nearly two whole hours on a survival quest with a man that’s responsible for atrocities and who turns a blind eye to them.
The film is a humanizing portrayal of a man that shows the disassociation with reality that power or fame brings. At the end of the day, he’s just a man. (Hannah Arendt’s hypothesis on Eichmann and the banality of evil). Gomiashvili gives a reserved, understated performance, and he’s most enjoyable when engaging and protecting his grandson. As the young boy, Dachi Orvelashvili ends up stealing the show with a fine performance. His gradual loss of innocence often seems a bit overplayed, but it’s the film’s most winning attribute.
Makmalbaf proposes an original if not wholly successful take on the Arab Spring political upheaval in “The President.” Shot in Georgia with an all-Georgian cast, it ignores the religious issues at stake in the Arab turmoil to concentrate on a greedy ruling family that has reduced its subjects to poverty and the violence of civil war that follows when they are ousted from power.
The cruel dictator, who was used to starving the populace and burning his enemies alive, is now forced to come to terms with the human suffering he’s caused and experience his bedraggled country from the way his victims experienced it. The film becomes a simple catalog of horrors with greedy militia robbing refugees and raping women, corpses littering the streets, the chaos of civil war.
The people are seen as bloodthirsty and bent on vengeance against the deposed dictator. Violence causes more violence, hungry people are wicked, and democracy should not be a vendetta against the past. As His ex-Majesty becomes aware of what he’s done to the country, he looks a bit abashed, but the big dramatic scene of catharsis is missing.
- Deleted Scenes
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
- “Making of The President”
About Corinth Films
Since 1977, Corinth Films has been distributing foreign and independent arthouse cinema to audiences in the US & Canada. Beginning with such classics as David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, Corinth’s more recent releases have included films by up-and-coming international directors such as Nadav Lapid and Mika Kaurismaki, as well as acclaimed longstanding auteurs such as Andrei Konchalovsky, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Edgar Reitz. As the film-viewing landscape changes, the desire for intellectually stimulating and entertaining films will not, and Corinth continues its mission to acquire and release undiscovered, international watch-worthy content. To discover and enjoy Corinth’s film releases, visit www.corinthfilms.com.