The Voice of the People leaving its audience speechless

In The Voice of the People, Andreas Wilcke shows the communication strategies of the AfD, a right-wing party that came out of nowhere and became the third strongest party in the German Bundestag in 2017. If you know the history of the AfD, you’ll enjoy the documentary. Without the necessary background knowledge, you’ll leave the cinema with more questions than answers.

In a rural tavern, AfD-politician Norbert Kleinwächter instructs his audience on how to behave in political discussions. Tip number one: talk them under the table. The content is not important, but simply make sure that the others don’t get a chance to speak.

Secondly, if you are asked a question, it is best to ask a counter-question. That way you avoid questions to which you have no answers. Lastly, in case you don’t see any other option, smear campaigns will always work. Just blame the others and attack them. “Anything goes as long as it polarises,” Kleinwächter rounds off his speech. Big-headed pensioners and conservative youngsters, the whole audience applauds and stands up to sing along with the German national anthem.

This scene reflects the documentary in all its facets. For over three years, the producer followed four leading AfD politicians. He accompanied them to election rallies, to internal party meetings and on a trip to a refugee camp. As viewers, we learn first-hand how right-winged populist parties work. We experience how they write, rehearse, and present their sophisticated speeches. “Whether we can convince our counterpart with our opinion, depends to 70 per cent on how we say something. 22 per cent is up to the attitude of our counterpart. Only 8 per cent depends on the content,” says Kleinwächter during an introductory training of new party members.

Producer Andreas Wilcke decided to not use a voice-over for his documentary. He lets the politicians speak for themselves. As a result, the viewers don’t learn any general information about the AfD, or the politicians personally. We only see and hear what the politicians themselves say. The film itself is not structured chronologically. Andreas Wilcke mixed up the scenes and returns to some situations at a later point in the documentary. Thanks to subtitles, however, the viewer always knows where and at what time the scene was shot.

Without having any background knowledge about the AfD or speaking German, the documentary won’t please you, as you’re missing the context. Some scenes, such as those in which they sit in taverns and shout Nazi sayings, are not clearly understandable to a layperson. The subtitles are well done, but some emotions are lost in the translation. Many of the politicians’ statements are much stronger in German than when translated. The politicians use dismissive words towards foreigners, which are downplayed in the subtitles.

If you are interested in European populism, The Voice of the People will make you tongue-tied unclear. At the beginning of the documentary, you get the feeling that Andreas Wilcke is trying to put right-wing populists in a good light. But soon, we recognise the true faces of the four power-hungry politicians: disparaging comments towards migrants, fatherland slogans and racist chanting at electoral rallies follow.

This behaviour is also evident when MP Armin-Paul Hampel visits a refugee camp in Samos, Greece. With a lit cigarette in his hand, he asks a resident where he comes from and where he wants to go. “Germany,” says the young Afghan. Hampel does not continue the conversation. He doesn’t show a bit of empathy. After taking a few more photos for the press, the politician quickly leaves the camp. To display such behaviour in a place where so much misery happens tells a lot about Hampel and leaves us speechless. It is a mixture of frustration, anger and bewilderment that remains within us after watching the documentary.