If there was ever a visual indictment on the freedom-yanking powers that be, this doc might be it. Two years ago, the race for rule south of the border was won in a fraudulent victory by a company man. Masses of Mexicans felt their voices were muzzled when votes were tossed, bought, discounted or disappeared altogether. This historical exposé reveals in almost two hours a thorough case intended for a sentient viewer who needs a shot in the arm to riddle off the impetus for the next revolution.
It takes a documentary of this breed to conjure what exactly took place when populist Manuel López Obrador lost the presidential bid to Felipe Calderón Hinojosa in arguably one of the most egregious abortions of justice on record. Director Luis Mandoki (who should stick with nonfiction—anybody that sat through the Jennifer Lopez flop Angel Eyes will concur) lays it on thick with his thesis that there is so much greed and influence from the establishment in the government and private sector that elections can’t actually be free. Mandocki goes at the Mexican political juggernaut head on and interviews a couple of principle players (while most declined), along with pooling what must have been hundreds of hours of footage by gritty videographers who kept rolling despite abrasive threats from the badge and gavel. Together the work packs a hefty load, warning that a lemming mentality will be the ruin of humanity.
Fraude tracks back in time to when Mexico was ruled by term-less dictators who lived high on the hog. Nowadays, the country and its arms of government profess a democratic countenance. But one wonders, when on election night 2006, and with no clear winner, if the trickery and deceit we see shamelessly caught on film refutes any such notion that this is a people’s process. Obrador, Mexico City’s popular mayor and the mainstay throughout the film, is beloved by Mexico—from the poor boondocks to urban melting pots. From the start of his run for presidency, he was accused of associating with tainted sorts, and his character was pummeled by hate ads. His foe is Calderón, who seems more a tool on the take than a leader. Through it all, the two play out their campaigns, and Obrador in present time (and eloquently, I should add) admits that his cause was stymied by big-business interests who “want to maintain the same regime at all costs.”
Plazas filled to the gills with Obrador supporters, and candid grainy interviews depict passionate supporters as they become victims in grim collisions with riot police. On-camera—political posturing aside—the filmmaker sticks to the grassroots of the political process. In town hall meetings, the people contest ballots. In this case, there’s no dangling chad chaos—instead we see subjective consensus over smeared black Xs. When a vote for Obrador is clearly marked with a big X it is annulled after a majority vote. From the bottom-up, there is corruption. Banks are traded for coffers support, forged letters are created to discredit Obrador, votes are for sale in return for favors (irrefutable phone recordings prove as much) and, despite the rage against the machine, the powerful brokers got their guy and the nation must wait for the next event.
Via the compilation of a good many perspectives, a compelling case is made. The Ravel-like score is elegant and splendid. The moral fiber of the upper echelon dominates. Despite a modest gesture to recount the tainted votes, only a measly single-digit percentage of the country’s tally are actually scrutinized. Surmising from Obrador’s own words, he took a Ghandi-like approach to resistance and led peaceful protests. He led a sit-in to get answers after the fact, and with much poise, acknowledges that the struggle was risky but spawned a new movement that is thriving today.
Fraude ’s running time could have been trimmed down some, and you never see much more than a glance beyond the big rallies and talking heads on what lies ahead for the defeated leader and his faithful who (one hopes) will try again to restore the country’s trajectory. But the timing of the release could not be more apropos, given that Americans are going try again to see if the electoral process has licked its wounds from the last two elections. Will the cues and clues of this documentary be grasped come November, or will the powers that be in America have their way and disenfranchise many like those in Mexico who were erased from voting lists because they were supporting the leader who wanted to shake up the system?
Director: Luis Mandoki
Producer: Federico Arreola
Running Time: 110 min.
Release Date: October 8