Luis Mandoki preaches to the converted in “Fraud: Mexico 2006,” arguing that the July 2006 Mexican presidential election, in which Felipe Calderon barely edged out Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was illegitimate. Poorly informed viewers outside Mexico are liable to take Mandoki’s undisguised partisan account as gospel, when instead, its sloppy handling of documentary materials is far from anything that can be termed journalistic. Strong numbers during local November 2007 release point to high interest among Mexican American auds for mid-October U.S. rollout.
A closing graphic explains that Mandoki (“Innocent Voices,” “White Palace”) attempted to interview and was turned down by Lopez Obrador’s political rivals, including exiting President Vicente Fox and former President Carlos Salinas. But the film shows little interest in objectivity, allowing left populist Lopez Obrador to be the primary talking head onscreen and airing only his point of view on Mexico’s most intensely controversial national election in at least a generation.
Although Mandoki has publicly insisted otherwise, “Fraud” appears to be little more than a propaganda film for Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution, even as it contains several stunning vid-shot scenes of blatant ballot tampering that raise serious questions about the election’s legitimacy.
The film irregularly deploys Guillermina Campuzano as a third-person narrator, but then has Lopez Obrador narrate a section entailing Mexico’s troubled political history, which only recently saw a breaking free from the decades-long dominance by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The pol’s running theme is that the country has never really enjoyed true democracy, and has been ruled by plutocrats.
Bulk of the running time is spent on an exhausting and not terribly interesting postmortem on the run-up to the election and the tense aftermath. Lopez Obrador complains about his opponents conspiring to keep his name off the ballot, then complains about the negative TV ads by National Action Party (PAN) candidate Calderon. Mandoki doesn’t even show the harshest ads, which pale in comparison to spots in the current Obama-McCain U.S. presidential battle.
An ultra-tight 0.5% divides Calderon from Lopez Obrador by election night, and much fighting ensues over whether ballot boxes were stuffed by PAN supporters. The screen is crammed with graphs and tables indicating statistical hanky-panky, hardly acknowledging that this kind of shady practice is a Mexican political staple, one that cropped up a few months ago in PRD elections involving Lopez Obrador himself.
The dramatic image of Lopez Obrador leading massive crowds in Mexico City’s sprawling Zocalo square suggests a leader with overwhelming national support, but the film never questions this image, or at least places it in proper context. The candidate’s eventual calls to occupy the Zocalo and stage non-violent protests and sit-ins (few of which are documented here) actually resulted in an eventual drop in popularity for Lopez Obrador.
“Fraud’s” greatest value is its vid footage of heavily compromised ballot boxes. This footage was shot by several amateurs who answered Mandoki’s call to send in whatever they found, and it results in much more interesting and disturbing docu filmmaking than anything the pros manage. It also provides the only viable evidence here that, despite Lopez Obrador’s near-operatic grandstanding, the 2006 election was certainly dirty, and possibly criminal.