There are some subjects that seem so inherently interesting that they would make for a good documentary in anybody's hands. Certainly Juan Evo Morales Ayma's bid to become Bolivia's first full-blooded indigenous head of state in nearly 500 years by running a populist campaign against an entrenched white elite is such a subject. Unfortunately, director Alejandro Landes proves that no subject is so fascinating that it can't be made tedious with sufficient effort.
Landes follows Morales on the campaign trail as he wages a grass roots campaign against Jorge Fernando "Tuto" Quiroga Ramírez, a young, affable and articulate, white, right-of-center politician educated in the United States with close connections to international corporations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We learn that Morales won't agree to debate Ramírez, and cuts short hostile interviews with Bolivia's mainstream press. Further with the exception of one water cannon turned on Morales supporters at a rally, it appears that the government does very little to disrupt Morales' campaign efforts. Thus, there's no outside conflict or tension upon which Landes can focus. Unfortunately, he does nothing to fill the void.
Landes does not interview figures hostile to Morales either within Bolivia or in the international community. Nor does he ask Morales difficult questions, or really any questions. Instead, Landes chooses to follow Morales and key supporters as they go about their campaign. Unfortunately without pressure from outside or conflict within the movement, there's just not much here to document.
Morales rose to prominence as the leader of Bolivia's Cocalero Movement, a federation of unions (campesinos) of indigenous coca growers in the foothills of the Andes opposed to the U.S.-led effort to eradicate coca production: coca leaves are used as a mild stimulant by the indigenous people of the Andeas, but can also be easily processed into cocaine. Morales parlayed his position with Cocalero Movement to become the leader of the Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS), a populist, predominately indigenous, movement with a platform of nationalizing Bolivia's natural resources and redistributing wealth and land.
Landes documents Morales and his lieutenants organizing supporters at numerous union meetings. Although these meetings invariably include a few chants of "death to Yankees" and such, they are mostly concerned with the minutia of rehearsing the illiterate peasants in how to mark the ballot for the MAS slate. When Morales isn't attending union meetings, the bachelor is getting his hair cut (Landes shares two such haircuts with the viewers), or talking or eating with friends. These moments of quiet which in other political campaign documentaries are used as brief interludes in an otherwise grueling schedule, account for the bulk of this documentary, and by inference Morales' time.
Landes follows Morales all the way through to the eventual election victory, but the story never builds any momentum or drama along the way despite the unproven assertion that some indigenous voters were maliciously disqualified at the polls.
As with most every First Run Features release, the image is letterboxed. The 1.66:1 image is about average for standard video with some artifacts and video noise apparent. English subtitles over the Spanish audio track are forced.
The original Spanish language audio is presented in a choice of 2.0 or 5.1 Dolby Digital. Both audio tracks sound good considering the source, with the only noticeable difference being that the 5.1 mix makes use of the rear channels for the soundtrack.
The only extra provided is the original theatrical trailer for the film.
Cocalero proves that any subject no matter how inherently interesting can be turned into an unengaging documentary with a little work. Documentarian Alejandro Landes turns one of the most exciting elections in South American history into a tedious bore. Skip it.