Netflix UK film review: Democrats
James R | On 12, Aug 2015
Director: Camilla Nielsson
Cast: Douglas Mwonzora, Paul Mangwana
Watch Democrats online in the UK: Netflix UK / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Apple TV (iTunes) / Dogwoof TV
“The game of politics is pretending,” says Paul Mangwana in Democrats. A lawyer and a member of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, he’s one of two politicians tasked with drafting a new constitution for Zimbabwe. The other is Douglas Mwonzora of the MDC-T party. They’re polite to each other, friendly even, as they try to put aside their differences. They’re democrats. But in such a corrupt country, is democracy even possible?
The constitution was part of the deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai following the hotly contested 2008 elections, which saw President Mugabe retain his position of power. “Democracy. It’s a difficult proposition,” we see him declare with a smug grin. “The opposition wants more than what it deserves.”
If things are that uneasy in public, Camilla Nielsson’s fantastic documentary reveals they’re even more so behind closed doors. Shot over several years, the director captures the slow grind of political cogs slowly turning on the ground. Like our lead duo, what we observe swings wildly between hope and despair. “If you do not change your way of doing things, change will change you,” points out the likeable Mangwana, all grinning teeth and moustache. Douglas, meanwhile, maintains his professional appearance throughout the difficult process – except for one candid moment in a car, when he berates a journalist for only contacting him when they have negative news to report.
Neilsson’s access is almost unbelievable, giving us a rare insight into the birth of a new political system. Discussions of what the word “hostile” means when describing the meetings held around the country with members of the public emphasises how flexible a politician’s vocabulary can be, while the bribing of citizens to say Mugabe should have the right to appoint court judges is hilarious yet bleak proof that even when being transparent, Mugabe’s government is as opaque as ever. It’s the kind of material that you can imagine making for a gripping TV satire – a feeling accentuated by the fact that Mangwana’s stare occasionally resembles that of Forest Whitaker. But while his assertion that politics is pretending could have come from the mouth of Frank Underwood, there’s nothing fake about it. The result is an engrossing ride through the farcical corridors of power.
Democrats is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.