Politics has, surprisingly, not been a target for the mockumentary as often as one might imagine, with the TV mini-series Tanner ’88, detailing the run for president by a fictitious candidate, and the made-for-TV movie The Death of a President, imagining the assassination of George W. Bush, the most easily recalled. The opportunities afforded for satire, scandal-mongering and provocation would appear to be a goldmine for filmmakers and television directors but it remains a largely untapped source of inspiration. One intriguing big screen take on the political mockumentary came out of Denmark in 2007: Morton Hartz Kaplers’s AFR - the initials of the then Danish PM and now Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen - was another what-if assassination scenario. Perhaps best suited to television, with nothing particularly ‘cinematic’ to warrant seeing it on the silver screen, AFR is as a whole somewhat underwhelming: its depiction of Rasmussen’s assassination and the subsequent search for his killer, thought to be his secret gay lover Emil, played by Hartz Kaplers himself, runs out of steam after a promising set-up. And yet in its deft interweaving of factual footage and staged scenes to comment on the Machiavellian world of politics, media intrusion, the age of celebrity, voyeurism and the nature of documentaries themselves, it feels like the natural successor, in terms of construction at least, to the work of Peter Watkins.
AFR is conventional in structure, pretending to be an after-the-event investigative exposé of the incidents leading up to Rasmussen’s murder and the potential identity of the culprit. It uses staged talking head interviews with fake politicians, friends and family members of both Rasmussen and Emil, footage from interviews with actual politicians (taken out of context to suit Hartz Kaplers’s narrative), images from the Nørrebro squat riots of the 90s and a damaging scandal involving Rasmussen early in his political career to paint a fictionalised portrait of the two ‘lead characters’ and Danish society as a whole. Alternative lifestyles, conspiracy theories, the war on terror, the anti-globalisation movement and political cover-ups all play a part in AFR‘s narrative, and figures such as Kofi Annan and George W. Bush crop up alongside the extensive footage of Rasmussen, in office and being grilled by the media, which has been corralled into this, for Danes at least, controversy-baiting alternative universe. An added murder-mystery element is introduced into proceedings as Emil, a troubled, volatile and independent thinker, is first fingered as the assassin before appearing to be the fall guy in an unresolved conspiracy reaching right into the heart of the Danish political elite.
Although AFR was branded as exploitative and in bad taste prior to its release, in much the same way as The Death of a President was, Hartz Kaplers’s mock-doc won the Tiger Award at the 2007 Rotterdam International Film Festival. Rather than being an attack on its titular subject, it makes political hypocrisy, media manipulation and social divides its real targets. It may be a minor piece but it’s an intriguing exercise in sound, image and history manipulation that, along with crime series Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and the hard-hitting Afghanistan war documentary Armadillo, which in their own ways both investigate and comment upon Danish politics, forms part of a provocative trilogy exploring the country’s recent past.