The President – Movie Review by Frank L.
Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Written by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkiny
Cruising along a curved street, with fine 19th century shop fronts, the camera delights in what appears to be a mass of Christmas lights. However these sparkling lights are mere window dressing for a corrupt dictatorship. The dictator, who requires to be addressed, as “Your Majesty”, by a mere telephone call is able to direct a lackey to turn off all the lights in his capital. Sitting on a terrace in the palace, overlooking the city, with his seven year old grandson, whom he idolises he permits the grandson to give the instructions to the lackey down the phone. Together they play this fun game of turning on and off the city lights until the lackey does not turn on the lights and the sound of gunfire can be heard. The revolution has begun in earnest. There is then a splendid series of scenes of the presidential family fleeing to the airport with the two presidential daughters, think ugly sisters in Cinderella, having a first rate bitching match in the chauffeur driven limo while every now and then giving a wave to the still humbled population. The dictator and the grandson remain behind in the capital. They have to go into disguise and hiding. The film tracks the series of “adventures” they experience in their new found uncomfortable roles.
Throughout the piece there is the expectation that the revolutionaries ought to have caught up with the two fugitives more quickly but when one considers Iraq it took the Americans and British a very long time to lay hands on Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless there is an element of disbelief that the pair are not spotted by either populous or the revolutionaries. The relationship between the grandfather and the son is the centre piece; the failure to discover their true identity permits their story to be told. Micheil Gomiashvili as the President and an unnamed boy as the grandson both acquit themselves admirably. In addition there are several flashbacks to the absurdly cosseted life style the grandson enjoyed in the palace before the revolution which makes their ability to survive as long as they do in the big bad world hard to comprehend.
Undoubtedly Makhmalbaf captured elements of what happens to ousted dictators as they seek to flee but for some reason, difficult to identify precisely what, the depiction of this dictator’s plight was hard to credit. Just too many lucky breaks protected him and the grandson. The reason for their luck running out appears to be that Makhmalbaf had determined that his story for the film was long enough. The ending is possibly the most successful sequence in the film and shows the fate that awaits many dictators!