Kingmaker, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/18/19 07:31:07
(Worth A Look)
Americans often hear bits and pieces of news from other countries, when something particularly noteworthy happens or when it's connected to something closer to home. The ouster of Ferdinand Marcos was a big deal, in part because it included astonishing details like his First Lady Imelda's impossibly large collection of shoes, and the current president's glee at murdering drug dealers is alarming enough to get notice, especially since he has a fan in Donald Trump. Both of those things are part of a bigger narrative, and Lauren Greenfield does an impressive job of getting at it in "The Kingmaker".It starts with Imelda Marcos, still fairly striking in her eighties, able to joke about how she's so identified with her collection of shoes that friends teasingly send her artwork or decorations with high heels on them, showing off her philanthropy, leading the filmmakers into the crypt where, as filming began in 2014, her late husband's body was kept because the current administration would absolutely not allow him to be interred in the heroes' cemetery. She's happy to talk about her life from how she started out as a girl from the country who came to Manila for a beauty pageant and soon caught politicians' eyes, but especially her son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who is currently serving in the senate and is eyeing a run for Vice President.
Naturally, Greenfield doesn't entirely take her word on this, but she's willing to let Imelda talk, and smart enough to realize that someone who has been in politics for most of her life and is trying to build a dynasty is likely not going to be tripped up by a gotcha question or two. Instead, she lets Imelda present the face she wants while also finding others who will present another side in an earnest, even-keeled way, from one of the candidates running against Bongbong to Andy Bautista, who went from the Presidential Commission on Good Government to overseeing the election and has, as one may expect, strong opinions about the Marcos legacy. Eventually, she spends some time on the saga of the isle of Coulalait (a large part of the original inspiration for this project), populated with African animals as a vanity project and gift to Imelda at the height of Marcos's power - at the expense of the indigenous people living there - but since neglected to the detriment of both human and beast.
One of the ways you can tell how good Lauren Greenfield is at this sort of picture is that she's able to highlight how magnetic and seductive a subject like Imelda Marcos is while laying the groundwork for how tremendously destructive she can be. Indeed, it's arguably crucial - though films like this are mostly preaching to the choir in this day and age, it is nevertheless useful to not portray the people who have been captivated the Marcoses as fools or marks, and indeed to let the audience feel what it's like to be drawn to them. This could play like tricking the audience, but she and editors Per K. Kirkegaard & Andrew Nackman seldom structure the film in terms of pulling the rug out from under the audience. Instead, they're bringing this thing many of us have not given much thought to for thirty years out and cleaning off the surface until a more clear picture emerges.
That the details the viewer can finally see connects the Marcos family to Rodrigo Duterte is not necessarily surprising, if one tends toward cynicism, but it's the larger pattern that Greenfield focuses on, the self-perpetuating nature of power and how the Marcos family has managed it. She's careful not to say anything definitive that can't be proven, but makes things obvious enough that viewers can draw their own conclusions. She seems intrigued at how this process of corruption is a seemingly endless cycle, as Bongbong is introduced as personable and friendly, a reluctant politician who would have rather been an engineer, but as the election goes on, the reluctance fades, and there's no particular corrupting moment. It just seems like gravity.
Perhaps the most striking metaphor for the damage this does comes from Coulalait, where the animals have survived and are cared for by people who love them despite the lack of resources being sent their way, but generations of inbreeding have made them weak and ill. In a repeated image, inbred giraffes' necks will momentarily be unable to support themselves, collapsing in a way that makes audiences cringe and hold their collective breath. They may not quite fall all the way to the ground yet, but without new blood, the next generation will be a sorry sight, and it doesn't take much to think of a country that keeps putting the people who previously enriched themselves on the treasury in office, whether because of familiarity, misplaced nostalgia, or that group simply having the resources to dominate. The skeleton eventually weakens.This story repeats across the world and history, with the Philippines serving as the most glaring example in the present though it is far from unique. It's one where a talented filmmaker can bring the issue into sharp relief, and Greenfield brings plenty of experience in showing the rot behind wealth and power to bea
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