CARA A CARA (Face to Face)

The latest documentary from director Margarida Leitão is a quite good example of an excellent idea wasted in an ultimately undecided, undecisive approach to its subject. At its heart lies the Iberian bullfight, a longstanding practice in Spain, France and Portugal that has become a flashpoint between animal rights activists and defenders of the practice, but Ms. Leitão isn't in it to either glorify or denounce bullfighting. Her focus is on the "forcados", who invest against the bull in the arena alone and on foot to grab it (mostly by the horns, but not only), and she seems to be trying to understand why the young men who sign up for the groups would want to go head to head with a beast that can gore them or kill them in a flash.

     The director juxtaposes two squads of men who do this pretty much on a voluntary, amateur basis, one of the longest-running Portuguese groups and a younger Mexican band - but that is where her film fails: while Ms. Leitão captures pretty accurately the masculine bond that surrounds the men as they train and perform, as well as the down, quiet moments, never does she manage to delve inside what makes them tick, revealing thoughts or reasons. As a record of their rituals and performances, yes, Cara a Cara can be a fascinating group portrait, especially since the director is very attentive to their expressions (whenever the group is in the arena, the camera's focus on the waiting men is priceless and insightful). But there is nothing else beyond that, only the sense of a film that gets in the room with these men but seems to have stayed firmly at the door, observing them carefully but failing to explain why they do what they do.

Director and screenwriter: Margarida Leitão
Camera: Guilherme Daniel (colour)
Editor: João Braz
Production: Ukbar Filmes, Inmedia
Portugal/Mexico, 2013, 69 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2013 Portuguese competition advance screener, Lisbon, October 22nd 2013

Trailer Cara a Cara from Ukbar Filmes on Vimeo.


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