The Matador



City Lights Pictures

Don't look for any deep sociological insights into the subject of bullfighting in "The Matador," a documentary about famed Spanish bullfighter David Fandila (better known to his legions of fans as "El Fandi"). Rather, Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey's film is a mostly gushing, cinema-verite portrait of its subject, who resembles Olympic star Michael Phelps in both his dashing athleticism and his geeky, good-guy persona.

The film follows Fandila over the course of some three years as he attempts to reach the top of his profession by achieving the rare feat of completing 100 corridas, or bullfights, in a single year. It thus follows him from his birthplace of Granada as he travels across Spain and Latin America, leaving plenty of dead toros in his wake.

Beautifully photographed and edited and featuring a stirring musical score featuring heavy doses of (what else?) flamenco, the film resembles the sort of emotion-rich, human interest profile that has become a standard accessory of televised sports events. Thus, we are introduced to such figures as Fandila's beautiful but neglected girlfriend, and his mother, whose anxiety over watching her son risk his life in the ring is palpable.

As a reminder of the sport's dangers, we are also treated to an explicitly gory scene of surgery performed on Fandila to repair the nasty wound from a goring.

Although there is brief footage of anti-bullfighting protestors, the film doesn't delve deeply into the long history of the sport or its present-day controversies. But its reverent portrait of its subject as he goes about his duties with dashing aplomb leaves no doubt about the filmmakers' sympathies.

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