Bullfighting. Even the word itself is provocative. Yet unlike its analogous animal bloodsports, such as cockbaiting or Monkey Knife Fights, in its country of origin Spain, Bullfighting is still a prestigious and noble cultural entertainment.
Modern day Matador Antonia Barrera is obsessed with Bullfighting. He has dedicated his whole life to spending time in the bullring, trying to win adulation from the crowds and working his way up to the prestige stadiums of Madrid. From a teenager practicing on the streets, to a young adult gaining notoriety in Mexico, Barrera knew that he wanted to be in the ring. He’s the kind of guy who says, with a deadly straight-face, things like “I’ve never had a relationship, even with a woman, as intimate as the one with the bull.” This is his life.
Bullfighting captures the imagination so evocatively, regardless of whether people have ever actually witnessed it, that I would assume that anyone who has ever heard of its existence would have a fairly strong opinion on it. Yet it’s not until the film introduces Jose Antonio del Moral – a “Bullfighting Critic” – do you realise that professional bullfighting is a traditional sport, an artform, a cultural industry – much like wrestling in the USA or (maybe) foxhunting in the UK.
Just like any other sport, Bullfighters have an aesthetic, a style, a back catalogue of established moves/positions; in short, a personality, like a boxer or a ballerina. The only difference of course, is that the opponent is a Bull… who is trying its best to gore you. Which happens quite a lot…
Antonia Barrera has been gored more than 23 times in his career, each time presumably with a nervous round of applause ringing around the bull ring. The audiences clearly love the thrilling danger, perhaps more so than the graceful display of the matador, and so when the Bulls occasionally, yet inevitably, catch the Matador with their horns, the crowds share a collective gasp before a sigh of relief when the bullfighter gets up again. I can see the basic appeal.
And yet, the traditional climax of the performance is the ritualistic piercing of the bull’s neck with the Matador’s sword: The pièce de résistance if you will. And yet it takes over 100 minutes of the film to feature anyone who disagrees with this, highlighting eventually the crowds of activists outside who are trying to ban the killings.
Regardless of your own views on the practice (for the record, I am intrigued but squeamish), Gored is a brilliant introduction to an inimitable culture. Bullfighting is awash with courageous heroes longing for grandeur and the opulent luxuries involved, until their dreams are punctured and they inevitably decline to obsolescence (or life outside of the ring at least). The culture may inevitably lose favour in the politically correct 21st century, but it will forever survive in the romantic hearts and minds of the dedicated aficionados (a word, incidentally, that we have adopted from early bullfighting fans…).
Gored is playing at Raindance this year. Check it out here