Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A scathing account of the notorious political career of Peru's president from 1990 to 2002, The Fall of Fujimori shows a seemingly sincere man's reign of corruption and scandal, violence and murder. Using terrific news video and once-in-a-lifetime interviews including a telling session with Fujimori himself, Ellen Perry's documentary is a frightening portrait of power run wild.
Peruvian agronomist and mathematician Alberto Fujimori wins the 1990 election and sets out to rid his country of the revolutionary organizations The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement). He places Vladimiro Montesinos, who is said to have 'helped' Alberto with some 'tax problems,' in charge of SIN, the National Intelligence Service. Montesinos immediately begins a ruthless campaign against violent rebels and legitimate dissidents, using Death Squads and torture. Challenged by the congress, Fujimori proclaims an Autogolpe and seizes full dictatorial powers. Military tribunals are conducted with judges dressed in black hoods and any dissent-related conviction receives a minimum 20-year sentence in a prison system where hundreds die in subhuman conditions. Fujimori's popularity rises, especially when he captures Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán, and displays him like a circus animal for the news cameras. Alberto's wife Susana Higuchi breaks with Alberto soon after he becomes president, claiming that he's "a better actor than those you have in Hollywood." When Higuchi runs against him in the 1995 elections; Alberto 'fires' her as First Lady and names his daughter Keiko to the office. Fujimori easily wins reelection. In 1996 MRTA revolutionaries led by Cerpa Cartolini seize the Japanese embassy and hold hundreds of government, military and business VIPs hostage for 126 days. Fujimori personally supervises an assault plan that saves all but one hostage. All of the militants are killed under suspicious circumstances. Fujimori is more popular than ever, but beginning in 1997 a scandal emerges. Vladimiro Montesinos is denounced for bribing congressmen and selling arms to other South American revolutionaries. Fujimori ignores the Peruvian constitution and authorizes himself for an illegal third term; as his riot police put down the opposition VHS tapes surface of Montesinos bribing lawmakers on camera. Montesinos eventually ends up in the same high security prison as Abimael Guzmán and Fujimori flees to Japan, where Interpol cannot extradite him on corruption and murder charges ...
Ellen Perry has struck the magic chord, documentary-wise, with The Fall of Fujimori; every step in this man's career is covered by actual news footage, requiring only a few statements by journalists to fill in the blanks. Ex-wife (and now Peruvian congresswoman) Susana Higuchi is used sparingly, but Alberto's star-struck and opportunistic daughter Keiko (also now a congresswoman) is so transparent an interview subject that she practically gives away the game on her own. In broadcast file tapes, when her mother rebels citing Alberto's outrageous corruption and duplicity, Keiko goes on camera to publicly ask why 'mother is being so heartless to the family.'
The recent history depicted in The Fall of Fujimori is particularly chilling in that it reminds us of our own situation. To fight dedicated revolutionaries Fujimori conspires with the villainous Montesinos to form Death Squads and inquisition-like Star Chamber military courts -- the 'Dirty War.' Power corrupts, and the two of them concurrently run a 'terror war' against opposition and dissent in Peruvian society. With news outlets censored, Fujimori's popularity rises; only later do we find out that Fujimori and Montesinos are suppressing the political opposition with bribes and threats, even bombing one senator's house. Once Fujimori dismisses democratic safeguards and runs his government in secret, the door is open to corruption, false arrests, kidnappings and murder.
The video offered to illustrate all this is breathtaking. We see the actual Death Squads in action and watch as the Dean of the Lima Bar Association is threatened and beaten by soldiers on the street. The equally repulsive Shining Path guru Abimael Guzmán is 'premiered' to the press wearing a silent-movie style prisoner's outfit, chained inside a giant iron cage like King Kong.
Ms. Perry's Ace in the hole is her interview with Fujimori himself. The now-elderly little man negotiates a Japanese airport, addresses a group of Japanese conservatives (to promote his book about defeating terrorism) and dines with friends including the hotelier who will later become his wife in exile. The inoffensive-looking Fujimori talks carefully around his scandals, acting amused that such absurd calumny against him could ever be believed. He has a telltale habit of pursing his lips and refocusing his eyes after some questions, that gives us the impression of a man weighing how effectively he has lied.
We become convinced that the documentary is not part of a conspiracy against the ex-president because all concerned describe him as a micro-manager who worked daily with Montesinos on many issues. Fujimori denies having much contact with Montesinos, at which point Perry cuts to home video footage of the two men discussing what seems to be a secret deal right at the Fujimori dinette table. Alberto guardedly asks his son Hiro (who is behind the camera) if he is recording audio ...
Needless to add, a lot of this material must be seen to be believed. The sight of Fujimori climbing the stairs of the liberated Japanese Embassy, stepping proudly over the dead bodies of the rebels, is priceless.
The Fall of Fujimori is briskly edited and careful to fully identify all the players and concepts. It certainly does not promote the rebels, and shows us the bloody aftermath of an apartment building blown up by The Shining Path. Editorial tricks are avoided, but a Latin version of the theme from Zorba the Greek is repeated a couple of times over scenes of police brutality and massacres.
Cinema Libre's DVD of The Fall of Fujimori is handsomely presented in a good enhanced transfer. The video footage from Peruvian television looks particularly great. Audio is in Spanish and English with some Japanese. Extras include an Ellen Perry commentary, an interview with her conducted by Leonard Maltin and deleted scenes dealing with the suppression of the Peruvian press and Montesinos' arms deal with Columbian rebels. A text update extra tells us where the main 'players' are as of June 2006.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Fall of Fujimori rates:
Supplements: Commentary and interview with director Ellen Perry, deleted scenes, 'character' updates
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 9, 2006
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson