Directed by: Guilherme Daniel
Genre: Fiction. Subgenre: Drama, Politics
Running time: 13’14”
A message of praise to the President concludes a Party assembly, sparking apotheotic applause.
In the middle of the crowd inquisitive eyes of the State Police look for the slightest sign of dissent, and the ovation does not cease.
A couple of years ago I came across an excerpt from a book that stuck with me, gained an indefinite echo that reverberated inside my head. An account of an event that took place in Russia in the 1930s, one of the many testimonies collected by Alexander Solzhenitsyn concerning life and death in Stalin’s Russia: at a meeting of a district committee from the Communist Party a message of loyalty to comrade Stalin sparks an endless ovation, because in the middle of the room members of the NKVD, the secret police of the state are also applauding. As minutes after minutes pass, the situation becomes ridiculous, but the first person to stop applauding the great leader seals his fate – 10 years in the Gulag. It may sound bizarre, incredible even, but in the years of the Russian Dictatorship people were stripped of their lives by things as simple as scribbling in a newspaper that had a story about Stalin. And this didn’t happen in any distant continent in the Middle Ages – it happened here in Europe, less than a hundred years ago.
Unfortunately, there are many narratives of this kind, testimonies of cruelty among men when there is a person or a class that imposes itself as superior. We are well aware that these demonstrations of unmeasured cruelty occur in all autocratic regimes, but memory is short and oblivion settles in the comfortable world. Narratives like these take on fabulistic contours, but it is necessary to keep history alive.
Humans are born equal, and must have themselves as such; when a man holds the fate of others in his hands and applies that power with tyranny and violence, it is an insult to Life. And that is my main motivation for making this film, as well as the enormous cinematographic potential that I found in this testimony. In recent years I have channeled my energies as a director towards narrative and genre cinema, and although I am a staunch advocate of this type of cinema as a vehicle for exploration and reflection on the human condition, lately I have felt that I should use this art to which I dedicated myself, to try to give back more to the world.
Today, there’s another Russian dictator that took upon himself to challenge the balance of the world with his imperialistic dreams. At the same time, we live at a time when we hear reports from all across Europe (and the world) of right-wing extremist parties gaining popularity. It is imperative that people connected to the arts keep the memory alive, as we already know that humanity tends to make the same mistakes in a cyclical way.
“He who falls asleep in a democracy wakes up in a dictatorship.”
The cult of personality is the root of autocracy, and it is the core of the never-ending applause that constitutes this short film. We took it out of its original context, using imagery closer to us, rooted in the portuguese Estado Novo dictatorship, but omitting the name of the dictator in power. The 60’s nondescript aesthetic provides a relatable and out-of-time feeling, allowing us to concentrate on the dynamics of power that arise in this room. The absent figure exerts power through its imagetic representation, looming as a ghost over the minds of the men and women caught in this situation. This phantasmagoria makes them exert violence on each-other and on themselves through mimetic repetition of a gesture of praise, until exhaustion of body and mind. For me this short-film is not only a reflection on relations of power within a dictatorship, but also on the cult of personality that exists today on social media, and the ad aeternum acclaim that goes with it.
The movie is intended to be an immersive, unsettling experience that places the viewer in the middle of the ovation, as the camera flows through different stages of the group psychology. The rhythm of the applause becomes hypnotic, and we immerse in the micro-expressions of the characters, these small manifestations of the face, of gestures, that Cinema has the ability to exponentiate. The viewer makes his own journey through the characters fatigue, fear, exasperation and despair; as well as the connections that unfold through the eyes and exchange of looks. Not being an horror movie, “Aplauso” is a movie about horror, and most definitely a short film that should be watched in a proper movie theater for the full immersion in the experience.