Fernando Pachero, the subject of Pedro González-Rubio and Carlos Armella’s DV doc Toro Negro, talks a lot about telenovelas, which have a considerably shorter lifespan than American soaps. Rosa Salvaje, for example, ran for 199 episodes back in 1987; by comparison, All My Children just turned 35. This would suggest that the telenovela is a less addictive pleasure, but Latin audiences know that a telenovela begins where another one ends.
Fernando’s life itself is something out of a soap opera—that is, the ugliest, most depressing soap opera ever made. A drunk since the age of 10, Fernando bullfights in the Mayan towns of the Yucatán Peninsula, repeatedly locks horns with his much older girlfriend and manager, Romelia, and appears to sleep with the man next door when he’s had too much to drink. Through relaxed recollections, the man’s astringent past comes into focus: the repeated suicide attempts after breakups with his girlfriends, a horrifying false imprisonment, the mysterious death of a pregnant girl.
The rich are conspicuous by their absence, and by never journeying to the bullfighting arenas romanticized by Hemingway, Madonna, and Almodóvar, the film seems to implicitly critique the new world for leaving the people of the old world to its desperate, self-devouring devices. The sight of Fernando beating on the brash Romelia is uneasy—not just for the audience but for the filmmakers, who clearly struggle not to interfere for risk of compromising the objective documentary process. In this one scene, as in the death of the little girl and mountain goat from Buñuel’s Las Hurdes, a struggle emerges behind the camera that’s every bit as intense as the drama that pans out in front.
Watching a lilywhite telenovela come to an end, Pachero talks about the bad guys who are supposed to be punished and the good ones that are supposed to persevere. After the birth of his daughter and a possible reconciliation with his mother, it appears as if the man might just conquer his demons, but given the swig of beer he takes and the roughhousing he engages in with Romelia before a bullfight, Pachero’s life suggests a soap caught in perpetual loop—the same story, only this time with a new(born) character. If González-Rubio’s interference in Pachero and Romelia’s domestic dispute is any indication, the only thing that can save Pachero from himself is outside human interest—a censor if you will.
Since 2001, we've brought you uncompromising, candid takes on the world of film, music, television, video games, theater, and more. Independently owned and operated publications like Slant have been hit hard in recent years, but we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or fees.
If you like what we do, please consider subscribing to our Patreon or making a donation.