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Films highlight Mexico's dark political past

The political thriller begins with a stunning piece of reality: actual footage of a man pressing a revolver against a presidential candidate's right temple and pulling the trigger, an image that marked a watershed year in Mexican history.

"Colosio," which portrays the 1994 killing of a candidate who was almost certain to be the next president, casts doubts on the official conclusion that a lone gunman planned and carried out the killing of Luis Donaldo Colosio, which is often compared to John F. Kennedy's assassination.

It is one of several new politically minded films being released just ahead of Mexico's July 1 election that are aimed at reminding Mexicans of the dark side of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for 71 years, and which seems set to return to power.

"Colosio" portrays a scenario that many conspiracy-minded Mexicans have long believed: that members of the country's power structure, including those in Colosio's own party, known as the PRI, plotted to kill the candidate because he promised to reform a government system run through corruption and coercion.

Another new drama explores a controversial clash between farmworkers and police in the state where the PRI's presidential candidate was governor. A documentary describes censorship of rock and roll during the party's control.

PRI spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said he couldn't comment on the films because he hasn't seen them and probably wouldn't have time to do so before the election.

"But what I can tell you that the PRI is respectful of freedom of expression," Sanchez said.

Those involved in the films say it's no coincidence that the releases come just weeks before the election.

"Your vote is secret but you should be informed," said "Colosio" director Carlos Bolado. "What's important is for people to know what happened 18 years ago, to recover our memory."

Many Mexicans seem ready to shake off any bad memories: PRI presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto has a strong lead in most polls.

"Colosio," which opened over the weekend, features major Mexican movie stars including Kate del Castillo and Daniel Jimenez Cacho. It follows the story of a police investigator assigned by the president's right-hand man to conduct a parallel, secret investigation into Colosio's killing.

According to the story, the investigator discovers there were several gunmen at the scene and that numerous people knew of plans to kill Colosio. And as the investigator connects the dots, each of those involved gets killed.

"The film doesn't tell you who killed Colosio but it tells why people wanted to kill him" said Bolado. "I hope it awakens people's curiosity and that they ask themselves why this happened."

The film portrays the president's top adviser as a Machiavellian politician who orders the killings of those who get in his way.

"During 70 years, whenever someone wanted to open his or her mouth they would first try to buy you off and if that didn't work, they would kill you," said Bolado, who is working on another feature film about the 1968 Mexico City massacre of student protesters by security forces. Official reports put the death toll at 25, but rights activists say as many as 350 may have been killed.

At a recent screening for "Colosio," some in the audience chuckled as the actor playing a prosecutor tells a news conference that the candidate was shot by a lone gunman — first in the right temple and then on the left side of his abdomen.

As the screening was closing, a woman in the audience shouted, "And you still want to vote for the PRI? Death to the PRI!" Some audience members cheered the woman.

"You feel rage, and then sadness and at the end you realized you have no other option but to laugh because we were seeing things we already know," said Ariadna Martinez, a 31-year-old housewife who saw the film with her husband. "It's our sad reality and it's sad to realize it won't change because those with power are all the same."

Colosio's death came at a tumultuous time. Zapatista guerrillas had just rebelled in southern Mexico and another top party official, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, also was assassinated in murky circumstances a few months later.

In the end, Colosio's slaying indirectly helped pave the way for the PRI's ouster. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari chose a technocratic Cabinet minister, Ernesto Zedillo, to replace Colosio as candidate. And it was Zedillo who as president did what was long unthinkable in the PRI. He quickly recognized the opposition had won the 2000 election, squashing any attempts to rig the results.

The other new feature film, "Machete Language," tells of a fictional couple that witness police brutality after a clash with flower vendors in 2006 in Mexico State, where Pena Nieto was governor.

The documentary, "Gimme the Power" by the band Molotov, describes the history of rock and roll in Mexico and government censorship of musicians who tried to sing about the country's ills.

The documentary stretches back to a rock and roll festival that drew some 200,000 fans to the shores of Mexico state's Lake Avandaro in 1971. The signal of the live radio broadcast of the concert was cut after the audience began shouting "We have the power! We have the power!" PRI-controlled governments largely banned rock concerts well into the 1980s.

Molotov formed in the 1995, a year after Colosio's death, and its lyrics often criticized the government as well as Televisa, the country's dominant television network, frequently in obscene language. Under the PRI, radio stations played the group's less-critical songs and bleeped out the cuss words. Molotov's music videos were shown only during off-peak hours, said drummer Paco Ayala.

"We realized that was happening ... because we were touching a lot of people who had the power to curtail the band's freedom of expression," he said.

Documentary director Olallo Rubio said he hopes the film motivates young people find a way to express their frustration about their country, as Molotov did with its music.

"You can make demands in a thoughtful way without having to go to Congress and beat the ... out of lawmakers who don't show up or who fall asleep when they show," added Molotov singer and bass player Micky Huidobro.