Photograph: Cannes Film Festival
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3 out of 5 stars

Oliver Stone’s snapshot of Brazilian’s comeback kid mixes amiable fanboying with political critique

Dave Calhoun

Time Out says

You don’t come to Oliver Stone, the American maker of epics like JFK and docs like Comandante about Fidel Castro, for sober, balanced journalism encouraging you to make up your own mind. Big spoiler before you see this lively doc full of great archive footage: Stone really likes Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (better known as just ‘Lula’), the three-time Brazilian president of the left who served time on corruption charges in the previous decade and returned to frontline politics to beat the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and win a third term in 2022.

There’s something endearing about how much of a fanboy Stone seems to be as he sits down to meet a glowing Lula ten months before his most recent election victory. It’s that interview – amiable and fawning – which punctuates the biographical run of Stone’s doc. But it’s also a tiny bit embarrassing, not least when he asks Lulu about Bolsonaro: ‘Where does this creature come from?’ It comes soon after the dominating score delivers a cue presumably titled ‘Enter the Villain’ accompanying images of the extreme right-wing ex-president. 

It’s an arresting piece of hagiography from the director of JFK

Not liking Bolsonaro is fine (even welcome), but it doesn’t inspire trust in the doc when Stone comes across so nakedly narrow in his focus, apparently trusting only the very pro-Lula investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald to give him context on screen about the complicated corruption scandal. Again, it’s fine if Stone wants to proclaim Lula’s total innocence, but some nuance and a bit more evidence and less opinion would be welcome.

All those caveats aside, this remains an arresting piece of hagiography. Stone runs through Lula’s life at speed, finally throwing us into the extremely close election of 2022. For anyone concerned with human rights and the future of the planet, the militaristic and anti-environment Bolsonaro was deeply unwelcome, so there’s a lot to celebrate. 

And that’s the spirit of Stone’s film. It’s an uncomplicated celebration, and if you approach it on that basis, it does the trick just fine.

Lula premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Oliver Stone
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