Film Review: Letters to the President

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Forum

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BERLIN -- The charisma of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who draws huge adoring crowds wherever he goes, is the strongest image in "Letters to the President." The portrait that emerges is of a nice guy with a simple, direct approach to the people.

Trying to be objective about the controversial politician, Harvard-educated docu-maker Petr Lom ends up with a lot of loose ends and an unclear point of view. There are some fascinating glimpses into populism and propaganda, especially in the rural areas that are Ahmadinejad's stronghold, but many films by native Iranians offer more insight into this complex society.

Succeeding where Oliver Stone famously failed, Lom was granted permission to shoot a film about the president and how his government goes about answering the millions of letters Iranian citizens write to him. Despite being the only Western journalist taken along on Ahmadinejad's trips around Iran to meet the people, Lom was given very limited access to the Presidential Letter-Writing Center and other key locations. The resulting footage has a hard time hanging together in a meaningful film.

Most of the film -- which is nicely shot, by the way -- follows Ahmadinejad on tour like a rock star, hosannahed by his fans, who seem to number just about everybody. With fervid, blazing eyes, the more fanatical interviewees speak of their Supreme Leader as capable of solving all problems, while they praise his religious devotion in awaiting the return of Mahdi, the Savior.

"Death to America", "death to Israel", and "nuclear power is our right" are the crowds' favored slogans. Though there is certainly an undercurrent of economic desperation in the populace, the first part of the film is so uncritical it could have been made by the Islamic Guidance Ministry.

Only towards the end of the film are critical views expressed by middle-class Tehran residents, who angrily mention press censorship, dress codes and limits to personal freedom.

Production companies: Lom Films, Point du Jour International
Director: Petr Lom
Producer: Petr Lom
Director of photography: Petr Lom
Editor: Petr Lom
Sales Agent: Films Transit
74 minute
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