The chances are you’ve watched a film directed by one of Mexico’s three amigos – Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro. But the firebrand director Luis Estrada is far less well-known outside of his native Mexico. Both popular and critically acclaimed in his home country, Estrada’s biting satirical take on social and political problems provides a perfect introduction to the issues facing contemporary Mexican society. Here’s a rundown of Estrada’s films to date.
Released in 1999, Herod’s Law is a black comedy starring Damian Alcazar, the Mexican actor who has starred in all of Estrada’s feature films. It tells the story of Juan Vargas, a naive politician who is sent to govern a rural town in the mid-20th century. In an attempt to modernize the town, Vargas is consumed by power, becoming ever more corrupt and authoritarian.
A fearless political satire, the film explicitly criticized the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the country’s ruling party. As a result the government tried to censor the film, but inadvertently generated so much free press for its release that it eventually became a Mexican box office smash. After more than 70 years in power, the ruling party was ousted from government just a year after its release.
Seven years on from the success of Herod’s Law, Estrada released another satirical attack on the government of the time. While Herod’s Law attacked authoritarianism, A Wonderful World takes aim at the conservative, neoliberal government in power from 2000 until 2012. Facing massive social upheaval, the Ministry of Economy declares poverty a crime and starts rounding up the nation’s poor. Alcazar again plays the lead role, this time as a homeless man who is caught up in the turmoil.
Estrada’s third film was released in 2010 and tackles the drug war that gripped the country after December 2006, when the government deployed troops in an ill-fated attempt to stamp out organized crime. This time Alcazar stars as a deported migrant who becomes a cartel foot soldier. The darkly comic film is heavily critical of the criminals involved in the violence but is also careful to show them as human beings. “The important thing for me was to show some of the complexity of the phenomenon,” Estrada told The Guardian in 2010. “This is not a problem about good guys versus bad guys like the government says.”
In 2014, Estrada released La Dictadura Perfecta (The Perfect Dictatorship) – another political satire that attacks the all too cozy relationship between Mexico’s television networks and its politicians. Several real-life gaffes from recent Mexican history are featured in the story, including the current President Enrique Peña Nieto‘s response to being asked the price of tortillas: “I’m not a housewife,” he infamously said.
Despite receiving no attention from the television networks, the film was a commercial success, recording one of the highest-grossing opening weekends in Mexican film history.