Imagine a documentary about Venezuela’s modern-day collapse that forgets to name-check a critical reason why.
Yes, the new documentary “A La Calle” essentially ignores that element of Venezuela’s decline, a shock given the film’s long running time and exhaustive detail.
The documentary, available now on HBO Max, still offers essential lessons on political corruption and humanity’s ability to rise above obstacles. What emerges is both bloated and powerful, albeit an incomplete portrait given the missing piece of the economic puzzle.
An obligatory dig at President Donald Trump late in the film, however, suggests socialism’s absence wasn’t accidental.
“A La Calle” takes a multi-year look at Venezuela, a state of affairs best captured by a single word — “hambre.” That’s hunger in English.
The locals are starving. The grocery stores can’t keep essential items like bread and diapers on the shelves. Hyper-inflation forces citizens to hand over stacks of cash to pay for necessities.
And then there’s “President” Nicolas Maduro, the dictator who bristles at the label. He’s a thick-haired thug who thinks nothing of punishing his people if it means a political win for himself.
The documentary follows the lives of several ordinary Venezuelans, resourceful souls who manage to survive Maduro’s version of socialist utopia. Some hold multiple jobs. Others do what they can to organize protests aimed at recapturing what’s been lost for too long.
It’s the word mentioned over and over again as we watch resistance leaders face imprisonment, and worse, for suggesting Maduro needs to go.
Young Venezuelans march on the front lines of the various protests, willing to risk their lives to regain freedom. Watching them stand up to Maduro’s police, get doused with tear gas and come back for more, is nothing short of inspirational.
And, in a way, frustrating for American viewers.
Compare them to stateside students shushing conservative speakers, crying foul over micro-aggressions and demanding segregated campus spaces in the name of “social justice.” Their toxic slactivism feels even more hollow after watching their brave Venezuelan counterparts.
The most engaging figure here is Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and quasi-leader of the Maduro resistance. He’s handsome and charismatic, bouncing from prison cell to house arrest during the course of the film.
Directors Nelson G. Navarrete and Maxx Caicedo give us an intimate glimpse of his suffering, sometimes via Skype or his cramped prison cell.
Why did Maduro throw Leopoldo in jail? He “incited violence.” Actually, he shared an alternative view of the country’s leadership, more than enough to separate him from his wife and children for years at a time.
One powerful scene finds Leopoldo shouting slogans from the window of his cell, as a small group of supporters gather outside. Just as captivating? Another resistance fighter describing how he used a chicken bone as a toothbrush while incarcerated.
The filmmakers shrewdly let a few Maduro supporters have their say.
“Capitalism … is the creator of poverty,” one worker tells us, after we’ve spent a good hour watching empty refrigerators and citizens stacked in line for food handouts.
At least part of the country’s media is on Team Maduro, of course, letting him broadcast his populist shtick to brainwash viewers. To hear him tell it, his fellow Venezuelans have round, full bellies thanks to him.
The film also features interim President Juan Guaidó, an inspirational resistance leader and talented politician with a populist’s touch — but he remains a minor figure thanks to Maduro’s power grab.
Would Guaido offer true hope and change? It’s unclear, but virtually anyone is better than Maduro.
“A La Calle” keeps the focus on Venezuela for most of the film, expanding the canvas only to show other countries where democracy is in retreat.
- United States?
Yes, a quip from President Donald Trump asking China to investigate Joe Biden in 2020 is given similar gravitas to international leaders consolidating power in nefarious ways.
But what about President Hugo Chavez Frias, the revolutionary who set the socialist wheels in motion before his death in 2013? The film mostly ignores him until the 54-minute mark. Then, we’re treated to a crash course in how he tanked the economy by Harvard Professor Ricardo Hausmann.
President Chavez Frias expanded government programs as oil prices spiked, borrowed heavily despite that boom, and created a massive deficit in the process.
Does that sound familiar?
By 2012, the nation’s economy — according to the film — was “fictional and fragile.” Just don’t mention the dreaded “S” word to help explain why.
There’s much more here, from Maduro’s police bloodying protesters to his team rigging a national election after ignoring the previous one that didn’t go his way.
It’s a fascinating look at a defeated nation, but one that honors the citizens fighting for their nation’s survival.
That’s the best element of “A La Calle” — carefully framed portraits of those who won’t give up on their homeland. Their beautiful spirit, and their country’s natural splendor, suggest Maduro’s reign will end sooner than later.
Let’s hope they don’t repeat the mistakes he and Chavez Frias made that helped spark their country’s collapse when it does.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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