Sometimes reality is so absurd that even our wildest fantasies couldn’t do it justice, and perhaps nowhere is this more true that in the sphere of politics. While here in the States shows like House of Cards have tapped into the American zeitgeist by holding up a chilling, if only slightly fictionalized mirror to our political culture, filmmaker Luis Estrada (La ley de hérodes, El Infierno) has recently sent shockwaves through Mexican society with his latest, ripped-from-the-headlines political satire La dictadura perfecta (The Perfect Dictatorship), starring life-long collaborator Damián Alcázar (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) alongside national heavyweights such as Joaquín Cosía (007 Quantum of Solace) and Dagoberto Gama (Amores perros).
The film chronicles the rise of a scandal-stricken state governor who strikes a deal with the nominally fictional television conglomerate, TV MX, in an effort to clean his image through trumped up news stories, eventually skyrocketing him into the presidency. Anyone familiar with the vicissitudes of Mexican politics might momentarily mistake this synopsis for a biopic of the country’s current presidential marionette, Enrique Peña Nieto, and in truth they wouldn’t be too far off. Estrada and his team make no bones about the film’s parallels with recent Mexican political theater, and the film begins with a disclaimer stating: “In this story all of the names are fictitious, the events suspiciously real. Any similarity with reality is not mere coincidence.”
Incorporating the omnipresent visual language of television news and social media, La dictadura perfecta actually recreates a number of particularly scandalous moments in contemporary Mexican politics, such as when ex-president Vicente Fox insisted that Mexicans in the U.S. were working jobs that “not even the blacks” wanted to do. Yikes. The painful irony of it all is that Televisa — the model for Estrada’s fictional TV MX — actually put up a huge chunk of the film’s budget, although they understandably backed out of their distribution deal when they saw the final cut.
Yet despite this little distribution snag, things have gone swimmingly for La dictadura perfecta at the domestic box office, with over $14 million U.S. dollars made in Mexican theaters alone. With recent social unrest rocking Mexican society, it appears Estrada has once again tapped into the generalized sentiment pervading his country, if only to laugh about it for a couple of hours.
While we may not catch this one in U.S. theaters anytime soon, keep a look out for VOD distribution in the coming months. And if you’re aching for some context, here’s a re-cut trailer that incorporates actual television footage from the scandals Estrada and co. recreated for the film.