Wednesday, December 30, 2020

HBO's The Art Of Political Murder

A disappointing adaptation of Francisco Goldman's extraordinary book, which retains the 'art' of the title, whilst shedding it in the telling for telly. 

The format is a string of interviews — essentially a trip down memory lane for the key investigators and journalists involved, plus some useful backstory. 

Goldman himself tries to add some deeper insight, but it might have been better to have deployed him as the narrator and to thus frame the narrative as a complex whodunnit, which is precisely what the author did on paper. Sadly, sales of the book are unlikely to benefit following the airing on HBO, because the whole production is rather mundane and slotted into standard-received Guatemala for foreigners...

Bishop produces surprisingly revealing and detailed report on army atrocities and is murdered a couple of days later. Authorities try to pin the blame on housemate and then the same supposedly gay priest's dog. But persistent human rights investigators locate a vagrant come double agent who will testify to the presence on the night of a pack of mid-level military sociopaths and eventually the justice system comes good. The end. 

What has gone missing from this version are the disturbing connections to two former presidents: Alvaro Arzú and Otto Pérez Molina. The documentary barely mentions the fact that Lima jnr and Villanueva were part of Arzú's palace protection unit and that on the night of Romero's death the sargento was supposedly doing time here in La Antigua for another more random homicide, which Arzú was at the very least a direct witness to. 

Arzú's subsequent attempts to globally propagate an alternative solution to the crime, assisted by the likes of Mario Vargas Llosa, are also strangely absent here. 

Some mention of the bloody fates of Byron Lima and his sidekick might also have been included. Plus how the former evolved into one of Guatemala's most vocal pantomime villains even as he was simultaneously very loud and yet very quiet from his jail cell. 

Anyway, the book remains a top recommendation (now in updated form) even if the documentary was thoroughly meh. 

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