Film Review: The Coup d’État Factory

The new documentary by Brazilian duo Victor Fraga and Valnei Nunes dissects the role of media in creating the conditions to dismantle democracy and pave the way for the rise of Jair Bolsonaro.

The Coup d´État Factory will premiere on Sunday 29th May at the BFI, London.

By Livan Garcia-Duquesne. Originally published at Alborada.

Since the 1990s, Latin America has seen the rise of a new form of coup d’état. Democracy and the ‘signs of freedom’ have become so entrenched in cultural life that the use of military force to impose a dictatorship has become archaic, out of joint. While the tried-and-tested formula remains an option – as witnessed in Bolivia in November 2019 – a more pernicious form of domination has also been elaborated, one that sits comfortably within the confines of ‘democracy.’ Indeed, the modern coup is affected without a weapon, without a drop of blood. It takes the form of a legal process, a judiciary war, without infringing on the constitutional order. Using the apparatuses of parliamentary democracy, it hides in plain sight by waging lawfare, a term coined for the abuse of law for political ends.

With a particular focus on the role of the media giant O Globo in the recent political developments of Brazil, The Coup d’État Factory‘s central aim is to expose the imbroglio between the media, politics and the judiciary system in their symbiotic attempts to coerce a political vision onto a population in order to sustain power. Through this framework, the duo of directors Victor Fraga and Valnei Nunes, discuss and lay out the tumultuous political history of the last few decades, marked by protests, scandals, coups dressed up as impeachments, samba carnivals and, finally, the rise of the far-right.

In that sense The Coup d’État Factory succeeds impeccably in providing viewers with a succinct and clear-sighted account of events – a difficult task indeed, for Fraga and Nunes have to work against the parasitic presence of Globo, which they vigorously denounce as being a factory for the distortion of ‘truth.’ The Coup d’État Factory is therefore an antagonistic work against the media conglomerates which control and manipulate the ways in which the world can relate to itself.

The film is a dynamic collage of various techniques. Fraga and Nunes interlace archive footage with ominous drone images; black and white drawings illustrate the essayistic voice-over, performed by Fraga himself, intermittently narrating amidst interviews with a varied array of commentators. They include former president Dilma Rousseff, politician Jean Wyllys, philosopher Marcia Tiburi, journalist Glenn Greenwald, former mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Rousseff’s predecessor Lula Da Silva, speaking from prison, among many others.

Taking the form of an incisive exposé on journalistic malpractices, misconstructions and outright lies propagated to sabotage freedom of thought, the film deconstructs, with didactic precision, the web of fake news that has plagued Brazilian media for decades. In a brilliant introductory narration, Fraga sets up the tone for the entire documentary: in 1913, two journalists from A Noite fabricate an event for the purposes of propaganda. They plant a roulette in the middle of Carioca Square, which inevitably causes a sensation. After photographing the tumultuous crowds, their scornful article reads: ‘Rio is turning into a licentious and lewd version of Monaco.’ This event, Fraga argues, marks the genesis of the relationship of co-dependence between media and politics. Soon, A Noite became O Globo, which after the 1964 coup was granted its request to expand into a TV channel as a token of gratitude for the role it had played in the mediatic promotion of the military dictatorship.

The evolution of TV Globo saw the gradual naturalisation of the channel as the kernel of social life, as the prime manufacturer of collective ‘thought.’ We learn that in Brazil, 98 per cent of homes possess a television and that many viewers only watch TV Globo and no other channel. The film thus exposes the obscene breadth of Globo’s outreach, as it extends into every household by way of the television screen.

Most interestingly, the documentary becomes a prism through which we can observe the tendencies present in our global political context. In recent years, Globo has had to navigate the landscape of slippages and shifting ideologies, the pressures of consumer society and international competition. Because its purpose is the profit-motive, and its ideology inscribes itself within the dynamics of de-territorialisation of ‘unfettered capitalism,’ of the neoliberal expansion of the free market, it has had to accommodate to a form of soft cultural liberalism.

Accordingly, it is argued, Globo has sought to increase its representation of minorities, within a wider movement towards symbolic gesturing associated with a need to ‘modernise’ and liberalise old institutions of discursive power. Indeed, this ‘cool’ bourgeoisie, now, produces trendy TV series, made to compete with the American suave of Netflix shows. Globo therefore represents the global neoliberal order, the ruling class as allied with the interests of the United States, gradually distancing itself from its more conservative or hard-right wing, but ultimately creating a void filled out by the only remaining true ideologue – Jair Bolsonaro.

This is where Fraga and Nunes elaborate a complex argument: Bolsonaro became the child that killed the father. By waging a war against Lula and Dilma’s Workers’ Party (PT) – falsely labelled a ‘terrorist organisation’ by opponents, according to the former congress member Jean Wyllys in the film – and after years of active propagandistic sabotage to impede the PT from being re-elected, after fuelling the 2016 coup which effectively ousted Dilma, Globo inevitably saw the seeds of its harvest turn into the raven it had created – the return of the repressed ghost of ‘eternal fascism,’ who inevitably ‘plucked the eyes’ of its mentor.

Indeed, Globo did not see itself as nurturing the cauldron of the far-right, the part of the population which had remained faithful to a certain value system which leaves no room for multiculturalism, for the new identitarian movements, which it sees as actively destroying Christian civilisation and ‘the family’ – a reactionary movement that exists well beyond Brazilian politics. When Bolsonaro took command of this cauldron, it rose up against the ‘establishment’ and Globo itself. Globo’s mistake was to stimulate the demonisation of politics, the ‘vilification of all things public,’ a dangerous game for it turned against journalism, against Globo itself.

The film is rich in questions: after establishing the role of the media in the enactment of coups, the question becomes, if the media is a dangerous tool, how do we regulate it? How much is it desirable for the state to have access and control over the media? Diverging answers abound in the film’s dialectal finale: the problem is the monopoly, the single ownership of thousands of media subdivisions. Glenn Greenwald emits a more cautious argument – his idea is not to control nor regulate the media, but to strengthen and fund a diversity of voices to create a climate for alternatives. A democratisation of the media is necessary, but one should be weary of running the risk of giving the state too much power over it.

Livan Garcia-Duquesne is a UK-based French/Spanish filmmaker and writer. He holds an MPhil in Film & Screen Studies from the University of Cambridge and his academic work has been centred around the works of Fernando E. Solanas, the representation of historical trauma in film, as well as Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of cinema.

The Coup d´État Factory will premiere on Sunday 29th May at the BFI, London.