Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but losing it isn’t necessarily redemptive. Mohsen Makhmalbaf charts one such fall from grace in The President, which unfolds like an episode of Undercover Boss minus the cathartic reveal at the end.
Mikheil Gomiashvili plays the dictatorial leader of an unnamed country who discovers that a coup has been staged while he’s showing off for his grandson by ordering underlings to turn off all the lights in the city save for those illuminating his own palace. It’s a breathless moment, easily the most confident and compelling sequence in the film. After failing to abscond to neutral territory via plane or motorcade, the Ceausescu-like figure and his five-year-old charge are forced to blend in with the beleaguered citizenry he’s spent decades disenfranchising. All the while, as they attempt to flee the country in disguise, the grandson cries out for the little girl from the palace he used to play with — his sense of loss is much different from his pop-pop’s.
Makhmalbaf — himself an exiled Iranian filmmaker forced to live and work abroad — renders this riches-to-rags transformation in dreary, washed-out colors lest we forget that his desperate protagonist’s plight is his own doing. Now that this iron-fisted ruler — whose list of crimes against his countrymen is unspecified but extensive — is no longer his people’s leader, he instantly becomes a homeless wanderer with a price on his head. Makhmalbaf makes you feel the enormity of the president’s loss of self even if you don’t actually feel for him.
Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Opens July 22