Review: The Matador

Issues of class don’t matter to the filmmakers, who romanticize the possibility of Fandila’s dying while giving the bulls he dances with the shaft.

The Matador

Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey’s The Matador caters to fans of Ernest Hemingway’s dubious literary classic The Sun Also Rises, in which a group of permanent vacationers scurry about Spain savoring the country’s culture. The subject here is El Fandi, née David Fandila, who dreamed of being a matador since he was a child and whose success in the ring—according to his father—brings four generations of men in his family together. The whiff of nepotism is pungent here, and though Fandila’s struggle to complete 100 bullfights in one year and accomplish what his father never could is understood as received cultural wisdom (or pathology), the filmmakers fail to substantially grapple with bullfighting as a long-entrenched tradition in Spain. Talking heads contradict each other about the extent to which the sport is losing its favor, with lip service given to the anti-bullfighting crusade that rages throughout the country, but the film could have benefited from a more cogent reading of a nation’s refusal to shed this vestige of a bygone past as a struggle against modernity, thus anonymity. Artistry and barbarism collide on the field, and the filmmakers are understandably agog at the subtle sexual suggestions of this modern-day gladiator sport, approaching it from a distance that isn’t so much privileged as it is perplexed. Like one of their interviewees, they understand bullfighting as being perched on the margin of rationality, but they allow the vastly different manner in which bullfighting is manifest in Latin and South American culture to soar over their heads. Issues of class don’t matter to the filmmakers, who pride above all else Fandila’s justifications for what he does, romanticizing the possibility of his dying while giving the bulls he dances with the shaft.

 Cast: David Fandila  Director: Stephen Higgins, Nina Gilden Seavey  Distributor: City Lights Pictures  Running Time: 74 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2008  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. A member of the New York Film Critics Circle, his writing has appeared in The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications.

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