Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Perfect Dictatorship

In his speech accepting the Nobel prize for literature, Gabriel García Márquez noted that while most of the world imagined that he had invented so-called "magical realism," in fact, he had only copied what had been the way Latin America had lived been presented in literature for centuries.

A week ago I saw a movie that was much less ambitious. It only copies from Mexico's history in the last fifteen --not five hundred-- years to spin the yarn of how an incompetent, murderous and ultra-corrupt state governor gets sold as the country's savior and winds up as the next president.

The movie, The Perfect Dictatorship, shook Mexico's political and media elite last fall to become the country's top box office draw for the year. Inspired by (but perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say "plagiarizing") various more-than-surreal episodes in Mexico's recent history, it describes exactly what has happened in that country.

As someone who is at least superficially familiar with Mexico's recent political and media history, my reaction to the the film can only be described as ROTFLMAO.

Of course, for people who don't speak Spanish much of this will be lost, since the American English-language press refuses to cover México. The Mexican press is terrible, yes, but Mexico has an intense social media culture (which is reflected in the film) and also a unique tradition of popular topical songs, called "corridos." Right now on YouTube you can find literally dozens if not hundreds of these songs about Chapo Guzman's escape from prison, with the most popular having 2.8 million views.

The film revolves around the tv network, Televisión Mexicana, an onion-skin-thin disguise for Televisa. How thin? Well, Televisa's nightly newscast for decades was called "24 hours." The fictional network's is called "24 hours in 30 minutes."

Each and every absurdity in the film's twisted plot is drawn from actual events -- including the climactic live coverage of the "rescue" of kidnapped 5-year-old twins, who in fact had been returned to their family a day or two before, and is staged solely for the benefit of the cameras.

This obviously satirized Televisa's #2 anchor Carlos Loret de Mola who, giving himself the benefit of the doubt, says he was hoodwinked into broadcasting live the supposed rescue of three kidnapped hostages, and the capture of French Citizen Florence Cassez and others in what was, in fact, scripted cop theater.

Cassez revealed the fraud during a live TV show, and soon the government was forced to confess. This clip shows anchor Carlos Loret de Mola claiming he didn't know, and then a long interview by Carmen Aristegui with the journalist who at the time was the news director of Loret de Mola's show. He says that it was obvious from the control room that this was all staged. After all, the cops had a false start, were quickly pulled back to their starting positions, and only moved when the cue from the broadcast's director was relayed to them.

The Cassez case caused a major diplomatic blow-up with France, and although initially found guilty of being part of a kidnapping ring, the Mexican Supreme Court eventually ordered she be freed due to multiple violations of her due process rights.

Even the linchpin of the film's final act -- the (old) President saying "I am not the lady of the house" in response to questions about how a new economic adjustment package raising the prices of basic necessities would impact an average family, is literally a word-for-word quote from the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who said it during a radio interview where he couldn't even remember what the minimum wage was at the time nor the price of tortillas or meat.

Indeed, the picture starts with the disclaimer, "In this story, all the names are fictional. The events are suspiciously real. Any likeness or similarity to reality is not merely a coincidence."

But even if you know nothing about Mexico's memes, trending topics and viral videos of the last few years, it is an entirely enjoyable and rollicking albeit very dark comedy. Just remember every last detail --including the new President having been essentially created and imposed by a hegemonic TV empire and his marrying the network's top soap opera star-- is true.

If you ask, how can that be, just remember that Salvador Dalí once said, "There is no way I will ever return to Mexico. I can't stand a country that is more surrealist than my paintings."

I do not believe the film has been commercially distributed in theaters outside Mexico, as the distributor was to have been an affiliate of the Televisa TV empire that took on the project after reading the shooting script but dumped it after seeing the rough cut. Inside the country it was the production company itself that became the distributor with the help of an indie distributor.

Of course only cynics (and those who have seen the movie) would say Televisa's commitment to distribute the film was made precisely to pull the rug from underneath the project once it was ready.

In the U.S., the debut finally came via Netflix streaming on June 1, and you can pick the dubbed-to-English or English subtitled version if you don't speak Spanish. In keeping with the film's surrealist character, I guess, the two translations --verbal and written-- aren't coordinated, so while on the screen a good is threatening to "really scare you" (in one place) or "Kill you" (in another) but in the subtitles it's "fuck you."

As far as I can tell, the Blu Ray and DVD versions are all imported from Mexico, and I don't believe they have the English dub or subtitles due to the movie monopoly mafia's anti-consumer "copyright" rules that usually won't allow both English and Spanish versions of a film on the same disks.

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