‘Life is Sacred’: Miami Review

Courtesy of Final Cut For Real
An intriguing, quietly inspirational story of one man’s struggle against politics

Colombian campaign trail documentary about an outsider’s presidential bid

If anyone doubted that idealism has a place in politics, then Life is Sacred winningly shows that it can -- even though that impact might be limited. An unashamedly partisan journey on the Colombian campaign trail in the company of Antanas Mockus, one of those rare politicians who can truly claim to have changed the terms of political debate in his country, the film is a valuable education both for the young political idealists who follow Mockus -- and that includes the film makers -- and perhaps for viewers too.

In a global political climate in which the idealistic voices of the young represent an increasing threat to the establishment, Life is Sacred confirms that such voices can make a difference. As such, its inspirational message seems tailor-made for politically-themed sidebars.

The docu is mostly narrated by Katherine Miranda, a young Green Party member whose stated pre-credits wish is to see her grandmother die in a peaceful country. In Colombia, where the unholy combination of politics, guns and drugs has claimed thousands of lives over the past 50 years, it sounds like a pipe dream -- though one which will appear less naive by the film’s ending.

The affable, offbeat intellectual Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, a spiritual leader to Katherine and to many young idealists like her, became Mayor of Bogota on a platform of peace, anti-corruption and “soft strength”. Mockus has a reputation for the unusual gesture, such as mooning at protesters whilst a university dean (“to show them the color of peace,” he explains: “white”); setting mimes to control the Bogota traffic; and other similarly eccentric political methods which the film doesn’t show. Under Mockus’ mandate, among other positives homicides in Bogota apparently fell by 70% -- though his policies were perhaps not the unqualified success the film would have us believe.

Watching Mockus, it’s initially hard to understand how he did make such an impact. Quietly-spoken, apparently uninterested in cultivating an attractive image, and often naive-sounding, he's very much the stereotypical academic; but perhaps his appeal derives from the very fact he looks and sounds so unlike a politician. Though its roots are unexplored in the film, his wish to rewrite the history of Colombia in “pencil, not blood” is captivatingly genuine.

The camera follows Mockus on the 2010 presidential campaign trail as he struggles with the cynical realities of big-time, dirty, media-driven politics -- “try to understand why I cannot answer you”, he beseeches one soundbite-seeking interviewer-- and more specifically with the rumors spread by the his opponent’s campaign strategist, the notorious J.J. Rendon, whose work eventually consigned the Greens to a better-than-expected second place. It’s a fascinating insider view, especially during the debate following revelations that votes have been bought.

LIfe is Sacred is open hagiography: although Mockus’ influence on the 2010 election was truly transformative, and may definitively have changed the terms of Colombian political debate, there’s the sense that the film’s reporting on 2014 through its second part might be distorted in its wish to convey the way that Mockus transformed the political stakes in Colombia. Mockus’ dealings with his doughty Lithuanian mother take the film into psychological areas which remain under-explored throughout, and given the film makers’ access to Mockus, we learn too little about what drives him.

When the eventual 2014 victor Juan Manuel Santos Santos namechecks Mockus, who has now abandoned the political front line from the platform to wild cheering, it may be populist opportunism by Santos as much as the genuine acknowledgement that Life is Sacred so wants it to be. But at the end, it’s LIfe is Sacred’s energizing optimism that the viewer will carry away, that same infectious optimism which has sustained Mockus, his followers and the film makers alike.

Production companies: Final Cut for Real, Sant & Usant, Savage Production, Elk Film, Iambic Dream Films
Cast: Antanas Mockus, Katherine Miranda
Director: Andreas Dalsgaard, Nicolas Servide Staffolani, Viviana Gomez Echeverry
Producers: Signe Byrge Sorensen, Anne Kohncke, Anita Rehoff Larsen, Tone Grottjord, John Keville, Conor Bary, Andreas Daldgaard, Sune Lolk
Executive producers: Danny Glover, Joslyn Barnes, Wael Kabbani, Rory Gilmartin
Directors of photography: Ross McDonnell, Viviana Gomez Echeberry, Andreas Dalsgaard
Production designer:
Editors: Janus Billeskov Jansen, Helge Billing, Soren ebbe, Nicolas Servide Staffolani, Esttephan Wagner
Composer: Kristian Eidnes Andersen
Casting director:
Sales: Final Cut for Real

No rating, 104 minutes