The Edge of Democracy ★★★½

American viewers watching Petra Costa’s “The Edge of Democracy” — an angry, intimate, and haunting portrait of Brazil’s recent slide back into the open jaws of dictatorship — might find it morbidly fitting that the nation’s capital is one hour ahead of Washington D.C.; for all the specificity of Costa’s doc, her film can’t help but feel like a preview of what might be coming for us.

To a certain extent, that seems to have been Costa’s intention, and we her target audience. There’s a reason why her plaintive and poetic narration is delivered in English, and why her broad overview of Brazil’s political scandals is pitched at viewers who are learning about them for the first time. This is a movie that seems as if it was always meant to be exported — a cautionary tale that was sold to Netflix so that it could reach the people who most needed to see it.

On the other hand, there’s always a chance that “The Edge of Democracy” just evolved that way over the course of its long and harrowing gestation, as Costa sometimes loses her grip on the urgency of this material when trying to thread the needle between personal history and political inertia. At what point does a story about one failing democracy become a story about all failing democracies? Perhaps there’s no way of knowing until it’s already too late.

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