One can't go in expecting subtlety from a film titled "Bulls**t." But even by "Borat" standards, this 2005 documentary from Swedish filmmakers Peå Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian has a notably in-your-face attitude toward excrement.
The camera captures piles of the stuff -- being molded into dung cakes, fueling fires and arguments -- because Holmquist and Khardalian believe you need frequent reminders of the literal and figurative uses of their title word, especially in those parts of the world where injustices are as common as cattle. The injustices are the documentary's real focus, of course; manure is just a little easier to film than corporate greed.
Subtitled "Vandana Shiva , Environmental Activist and Nuclear Physicist," the movie has its clear hero in one of India's most prominent crusaders, a sari-clad dynamo who fights globalization wherever she can. Shiva isn't just an award-winning activist and physicist, she's also a kind of preacher, as well as author, ecologist, and director of a research foundation and school situated at the foot of the Himalayas. To those who consider her a superhero, her superpowers must start with multitasking.
Not everyone is a fan, however. In following Shiva around the world for two years as she travels to trade conferences, speaking engagements, protests, and meetings with Tibetan leaders in exile, the filmmakers run into a few detractors. Chief among them is lobbyist Barun Mitra, who once gave Shiva an award that bears the expletive of the film's title. Mitra thinks Shiva is an opportunist who misrepresents both globalization and herself. Kudos may go to the directors for letting him have his limited say, but then they so undercut his arguments with flip and pejorative images that it's hardly a fair fight. It's also unnecessary, because Shiva more than holds her own in every documented confrontation.
It's her contention that multinational corporations are engaging in biopiracy when they seek to patent such Third World staples as neem and basmati. She isn't shy about petitioning European governments to stop this, just as she doesn't hesitate to challenge the ethics and wisdom of genetically modified foods, or to link arms with villagers whose water supply is allegedly being compromised by a leading soft drink company.
Holmquist and Khardalian (makers of dozens of documentaries including "Back to Ararat") allow us to see Shiva as a real person, cellphone glued to her ear, prone to revealing that she's both the product of a privileged upbringing and surprisingly down to earth. At times she looks tired, as she should be. This film is at its most honest and organic when she's off her pulpit.
Unfortunately , by contrast some other moments can seem forced and manipulative, particularly when coupled with a transparent piece of background music to set the mood. You may long for more extended glimpses of the woman behind the multisyllabic words. And then you may wonder if editing out a few mountains of dung could have freed up some valuable space.
Codirector Suzanne Khardalian will be at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts to discuss tonight's 7 p.m. screening.