Jonathan Demme’s warm, likeable documentary finds the 82-year-old statesman on tour publicising – and spiritedly defending – his latest and most controversial book, ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid’, a work that prompted condemnation and accusations of anti-Semitism from
the Israel lobby, not least for its provocative title. We observe Carter in conversation with supporters and detractors, remaining charming and unflappable even when pro-Israel protesters line the streets to vilify him.
What the film captures superbly are the contradictions inherent in Carter’s personality, the complexities that make him a great thinker and almost certainly led to his downfall as a politician. A simple family man from solid Georgia peanut-farming stock, he also trained as a nuclear- submarine engineer and physicist. He’s a devout Christian and sometime preacher, but also an enlightened, fiercely intellectual visionary deliberately provoking discussion and even recrimination with his views on world affairs.
The film itself breaks few boundaries, filmed handheld in muted tones, inserting well-chosen news items to bolster our understanding both of Carter’s presidential track record and the ongoing Middle East conflict. As usual, Demme selects his soundtrack carefully, with songs from artists such as Gillian Welch and Neil Young complementing Alejandro Escovedo’s plaintive acoustic score.
It could be argued that ‘Man from Plains’ fails to probe deeply enough, being an uncritical record of events rather than an incisive journalistic interrogation. But Demme is clearly a Carter enthusiast, and his film paints a vivid, involving picture of an informed and passionate man whose impact is still being felt worldwide.