‘Democracy’: IDFA Review

David Bernet (‘Raising Resistance’) takes us behind the scenes of the European Parliament.

Watching a government at work can be akin to watching flies fornicate, so director David Bernet deserves credit for making the most out of a particularly tedious bureaucratic nightmare in Democracy, a rare and insightful glimpse into the inner workings of the European Parliament (not to be confused with the European Commission, the European Council or, yes, the Council of the European Union).

Following a two-year ordeal of meetings, negotiations and hand-wringing that accompanied the drafting of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — a controversial law meant to ensure data privacy within the EU’s 28 member states — this stylishly made documentary offers viewers access to an extremely opaque legislation process that is still far from over. (The GDPR needs to be adopted by the Union’s other ruling bodies, and won’t likely be enforced until two to three years from now.) Not suitable for audiences with dwindling attention spans, but perfect fodder for the C-Span set, Democracy premiered at the IDFA in Amsterdam and could find additional festival bookings, followed by ancillary play within the EU itself.

The Bottom Line

An insightful portait of democracy in action (though without the “action” part).

Bernet trains his camera on German Green Party politician Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Parliament member who’s been named “rapporteur” of the committee responsible for the new law, and who serves as a liaison between dozens of opposing officials, lobbyists and activists — all of whom have different reasons to sponsor or block a regulation that will have a profound effect on the way the Internet works in Europe.

For those against it, the GDPR will be nearly impossible to implement and will cost corporations billions of dollars in future revenues. For those who support it — and that includes the very left-leaning Albrecht, as well as EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding — the law will ensure privacy for citizens who do not want their personal data exploited for profit by the likes of Google and Facebook.

It’s a pivotal issue for sure, and while Democracy allows us to listen in on debates between various parties, what it really highlights is how beguilingly complicated it is to draft legislation within the Rube Goldberg mechanisms of the EU. When a version of the bill finally appears, Parliament members propose a record 4,000 amendments to it, with Albrecht forced to work out compromises during dozens of “shadow meetings” (which, despite the sexy name, are really just boring old meetings).

Fortunately, and unlike the jacket-and-tie executives who surround him, the young German rarely dons a suit and resembles John Lennon around the time Sgt. Pepper’s came out, making all the discussions and coffee clutches easier to sit through. There’s also at least one major twist when the Edward Snowden affair breaks out in 2013, giving momentum to those politicos who favor individual privacy.

Bernet — who co-directed the ecological doc Raising Resistance — tries to lend some pizzazz to such un-cinematic happenings, shooting in a widescreen black-and-white format that makes Democracy look like an Alan Pakula political thriller. It can be a bit of overkill at times, though the filmmaking never gets in the way of the essential: revealing the nuts and bolts of a political system that is, for better or for worse, ours.

Production company: Indi Film GmbH
Director: David Bernet
Producers: Arek Gielnik, Sonia Otto
Directors of photography: Marcus Winterbaueer, Dieter Sturmer, Francois Roland, Ines Thomsen
Editor: Catrin Vogt
Composer: Von Spar
Sales agent: Doc & Film International

No rating, 100 minutes