For Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, it must feel like an eternity since he basked in the glory of capturing the nation’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, and the front cover of TIME magazine declared he was “saving Mexico” earlier this year.
Peña Nieto’s approval ratings have since collapsed as Mexico’s economy has stumbled, while the recent disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero has destroyed his efforts to draw attention away from the nation’s problems with organized crime. To make matters worse, a major new movie that lampoons Peña Nieto, his party and their powerful media allies is currently taking Mexico by storm.
The fourth film by controversial Mexican director Luis Estrada, La Dictadura Perfecta (The Perfect Dictatorship) is a scathing satire that lays bare the cozy relationship between Mexico’s media barons and the political elite. It takes its name from the famous phrase coined by Peruvian intellectual Mario Vargas Llosa to describe the way the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governed Mexico throughout most of the 20th century.
True to life
The movie’s content, which entails crooked politicians mixed up in sex scandals, kidnappings, murders and organized crime, plus a healthy dose of political manipulation by the nation’s most powerful broadcaster, will feel instantly familiar to anyone who follows Mexican current affairs.
Real life gaffes, like when Peña Nieto said he did not know the price of tortillas because “I’m not a housewife,” are woven into the script. Previous presidents also provide inspiration, with the film’s opening gag based on Vicente Fox’s infamous comment in 2005 that Mexican immigrants in the United States were “doing jobs that not even black people would do”.
However some of the jokes are a little too obvious, and the satire is not as sharp as in Estrada’s cutting debut La Ley de Herodes (Herod’s Law).
Released in 1999, that movie was the first to explicitly criticize the ruling PRI for its corrupt and authoritarian ways. The government tried in vain to block its release but it eventually became a major box office success, while the PRI lost its first election in seven decades within a year of the film’s release.
Estrada followed Herod’s Law with 2006’s neoliberal-baiting Un Mundo Maravilloso (A Wonderful World) and 2010’s El Infierno (Hell), a dark but humorous take on Mexico’s bloody drug war.
The Perfect Dictatorship is essentially a sequel to Herod’s Law for the social media age, which sees Damián Alcázar reprise his role from the first film as an ambitious but morally bankrupt member of the PRI.
The movie’s central premise, that a powerful Mexican TV network would throw its weight behind prominent PRI politicians, is based on the widely held suspicion that Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish-language broadcaster, was paid to back Peña Nieto throughout key moments of his career.
Ironically, Televisa initially agreed to fund the film to the tune of 20 million pesos ($1.5 million), but unsurprisingly withdrew its backing upon seeing an early cut. Estrada has denied rumors that the movie was censored in any way, although he confirmed that its release was delayed five months because the producers had to return Televisa’s investment and find an alternative distributor.
When The Perfect Dictatorship finally opened in Mexican cinemas it sold more than a million tickets and brought in more than 55 million pesos ($4 million) from last Thursday through Sunday. It was the best opening weekend for a Mexican movie released this year and the second best opening weekend for any Mexican film ever.
Appropriately enough, the premiere was staged in the Mexican Senate. “I hope you recognize yourselves,” Alcázar told the few senators who dared to attend the event, while Estrada described the screening as “a democratic breakthrough” that would never have been possible just 15 years ago when he made his cinematic debut.