The intense political divisions surrounding Mexico’s white-hot 2006 presidential election provide the focus of Lorenzo Hagerman’s energetic docu, “0.56%.” Although the film’s sympathies and screen time are weighted toward defeated left-wing challenger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, its verdict is mixed on his candidacy, making for a more complex and rewarding work than Luis Mandoki’s polemic “Fraud,” on the same subject. This compelling though frenetic doc will garner considerable fest interest, despite being a fairly dated report.
It’s a shame that “0.56%” took so long to appear onscreen, since the country’s political landscape has shifted since 2006, when Lopez Obrador’s bitter supporters effectively shut down main boulevards in Mexico City for months following Felipe Calderon’s razor-thin win. Nevertheless, due to Hagerman’s skill at assembling original and additional footage (including some of Mandoki’s spectacular lensing of the fights that broke out among Calderon and Lopez Obrador supporters in the Mexican congressional assembly) and a highly dramatic soundtrack, the events way back when do come alive onscreen.
The downside of such filmmaking energy, however, is a persistent tendency to cram as much material as possible into roughly 90 minutes’ running time, with editor Hagerman cutting at too fast a clip from one interview or scene to another, allowing little time to absorb what’s happening and get a sense of whose head is talking.
The by now well-reported events begin with massively popular Mexico City mayor Lopez Obrador fending off his right-leaning opponents’ legal maneuvers to remove him from office. Having won that battle, he determines to run for president, cleverly using daily 6 a.m. mayoral press conferences to his publicity advantage.
The picture that emerges is of a keenly intelligent populist who knows how to use his political machine to get volunteers out on the street and voters to the polls, but who underestimates (as one analyst notes) how many Mexicans view themselves rightly or wrongly as middle-class. As in the U.S., the middle-class has the power to swing the election, and Calderon’s job is to scare enough of them to vote against Lopez Obrador.
Beyond its harried pace, the film’s primary weakness is its failure to report sufficiently on Calderon’s negative campaign, or for that matter on Calderon himself. (A brief interview in the back of a car doesn’t amount to much.) Lopez Obrador is seen flinging the mud as much as his opponent, adding to an impression of cynicism beneath his stated working-class idealism. Lopez Obrador’s other mistake is failing to appear at the first televised national debate, for reasons the film never explores.
The film views the final results not as a fraud, but as a reflection of a deeply divided public, with cameras recording amazed reactions among pollsters, mathematical experts involved with the election results, and Lopez Obrador supporters such as renowned Mexican author Elena Potiakowska.
In a choice moment that may come back to haunt him, Lopez Obrador is shown promising that, were he to lose the 2006 election, he would retire from politics and write history books in his native state of Tampico. “I would look foolish, and you can get away with everything in politics except looking like a fool,” he says. Currently, Lopez Obrador — whose popularity has significantly declined in the ensuing years — is planning to run in the 2012 presidential election.