Even set against the political turbulence of recent times, the Podemos movement’s emergence as an electoral force in Spain is gobsmacking. Seeded in the massive anti-austerity street protests of 2014, the left-wing group sought to harness nationwide disaffection and fury as they set about breaking apart a decades-long two-party grip on power.
As Fernando León de Aranoa’s exhilarating film begins, the activist and academic founders of Podemos (‘We Can’) have just over a year to prepare for a general election. We tag along, enjoying virtually unfettered access as Pablo Iglesias, the charismatic thirtysomething leader (think a younger, Spanish Bernie Sanders – with a ponytail), endeavours to translate popular outrage into ballot-box success. Iglesias and his motor-mouthed, baby-faced political strategist Íñigo Errejón travel to Latin America – inspiration for their political ambitions – and the US. Back in Spain, they confront internal disputes as the Podemos purists clash with the pragmatists, as well as contending with an increasingly sophisticated challenge from establishment parties and media who have begun to take seriously the ‘kids who started a party in a garage’.
True to its half-serious name, Politics, an Instruction Manual offers fascinating lessons for anyone curious about building a party and designing a campaign strategy in a media-saturated age. It is also a story that encapsulates a vexed and invigorating moment, prefiguring both Brexit and Trump, as a popular movement throws itself at the ramparts of liberal democratic orthodoxies. And it’s one hell of a ride. — Toby Manhire