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New Release Review - THE PRESIDENT

Overthrown by a revolution, a dictator goes on the run with his grandson in tow.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Starring: Misha Gomiashvili, Dachi Orvelashvili



"Much of what we get here was covered in far more insightful style in the original Planet of the Apes series, and when a horde of angry citizens are baying for blood in the film's all too late climax you'll be forgiven for imagining hearing a chant of "Ape shall never kill ape!""



Meet the new boss, same as the old boss! That's the hackneyed message of Mohsen Makhmalbaf's all too on the nose political drama The President. Confused and confounding in tone, the film begins in comedic fashion, as though the Coen Brothers were drawing on the comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, but soon descends into misery porn, dragging on like Jim Jarmusch remaking Come and See.
The President takes place in an unnamed nation under the control of a ruthless dictator (Misha Gomiashvili) who gets his kicks from exerting his power for the amusement of his beloved grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili). In the opening scene, the President calls up the power company to switch off all the city's lights except those of his palace, but the lights don't come back on, and the city skyline is instead lit up by explosions and gunfire - a revolution is underway. Refusing to flee with the rest of his family, the naive President sticks around with his grandson, but when he discovers a bounty has been placed on his head, he goes on the run, hoping to make it across the border before his former subjects execute both him and the boy.
Clad in his military garb and bedecked with medals of dubious distinction, the figure of the President recalls such predecessors as the fictional dictators played by Chaplin and, more recently, Sacha Baron Cohen, and the bumbling Eastern European milieu is straight out of Woody Allen's Love & Death. Everything points toward satire, but it's not long before the film begins to shove its message down our throats in a manner so didactic as to make Ken Loach's politics seem ambivalent. The revolutionaries are just as bad, if not worse, than the deposed dictator, as they rape and murder their way across the land.
We see all this occurring in graphic detail, but Makhmalbaf insists on having his characters spell it out in detail through dialogue. Each scene presents us with a fresh atrocity, but it all quickly grows stale. Perhaps this would have worked more successfully as an allegorical sci-fi tale, but presenting it all so bluntly makes for two testing hours of preachy miserabilism. Just who exactly Makhmalbaf is preaching to is unclear; who in the audience needs to be taught such vapid lessons as 'two wrongs don't make a right' and 'violence begets violence'? Much of what we get here was covered in far more insightful style in the original Planet of the Apes series, and when a horde of angry citizens are baying for blood in the film's all too late climax you'll be forgiven for imagining hearing a chant of "Ape shall never kill ape!"



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