The Power of the Powerless

THE POWER OF THE POWERLESS condenses 43 years of Czechoslovakian history into 80 minutes, moving from the popular election of a Communist government after World War II (and its shift into a totalitarian regime following the coup d'état of February 1948) to the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  If this were more thorough as history it might be a useful corrective in an America where schools can’t be bothered to remind students that the world exists outside of the U.S.'s involvement in it, but Cory Taylor’s brand of conventional, conservative filmmaking wants to impress you with a dramatic  story (Jeremy Irons is on hand to provide a voice-over) before it makes you think.  The lack of respect for the power of human memory and historical images comes out in the wall-to-wall music that tells you exactly when you’re supposed to feel angry, contemplative or triumphant. Even more distracting  are the ugly, artfully lit reenactments that Taylor stages under the sign of Errol Morris, presumably since talking-head personal testimony isn’t exciting to watch (but then, neither are his reenactments).  Because The Power of the Powerless is built like a nonviolent boxing melodrama where the underdog rises up to knock out the powerful oppressor as strings swell and interviewees tear up during their recollections, there’s no space to consider the nuances of life under and after totalitarianism. Taylor’s sentimental neoliberalism is synonymous with  good-bad moralizing of the victors and, in the end, only offers a string of platitudes urging you to remember that they won. (Phil Coldiron) (Music Hall)

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