Not to be confused with any immortal futuristic entrepreneur of the sci-fi variety, though suggestions of that surreal state of mind are on the verge of presenting themselves from time to time, Bulletproof Salesman probes the business side of war. Well, to the extent that the star of this documentary allows you to, as the salesman and directors seem to go toe to toe in a secondary warring turf battle. Which really should be a rule of thumb for nonfiction cinema: never allow your protagonist to control you.
Fidelis Cloer is the bulletproof salesman in question. Or rather bombproof, as the German military accessory hustler makes his way to war zones from Baghdad to Kabul, and where survival itself, at least among the elite who can afford it, has become the commodity of choice. Hawking his war profiteering wares from his itinerant salesmobile at the scene of conflicts, Cloer peddles everything from armored vehicles to helmets, vests and even designer bottled water that counts as a luxury in parched desert country. And, while the cocky, eyes on the prize Cloer brags, ‘chaos is opportunity’ and Iraq is ‘the perfect war, but not as exciting as Sarajevo.’
Directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein (Gunner Palace, The Prisoner Or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair), Bulletproof Salesman probes with its satirically laced portrait, a compulsive opportunist who much like a doctor, dreads the notion of good health and cures for everyone, which would quickly put him out of business. Repeatedly justifying his morbid relish of warfare and death by insisting he’s not the enabler, Cloer also shrewdly recognizes a great grab for a free full length feature infomercial when he sees one, however monotonously delivered.
And unfortunately, the filmmakers’ skills in attempting to lose the relentless spin their aggressive hustler projects, is no match for his slickly cultivated promo sales pitch. In what may be seen as a kind of off-the-battlefield skirmish of a different sort between them, as to who gets to dominate screen time. Which makes one begin to wonder how much extra business Cloer picked up as a result of this film.
Likewise dubiously sidestepped are the economic interests behind Cloer enriching themselves, including that suspect top secret ‘restricted military area back in Bavaria,’ even if he seeks to convince us that he’s a strictly one man operation. And the ‘we’ references that do slip out, but which the filmmakers never pursue, seem to defeat the purpose of why we all showed up to learn something here in the first place, about the hidden history of war profiteering on the planet.
Bulletproof Salesman: Move Over, Hurt Locker. ‘BS’ Business is Boom-ing, so to speak.
First Run Features
2 1/2 stars
DVD Features: Scene Selection.