Some see it as an artistic discipline, others as a brutal and bloody sport. Man against nature. Bullfighting continues being a popular tradition of Spanish and Mexican culture. Documentarist Ido Mizrahy directs Gored –to be exhibited at Documentary Window-, a film about the last bullfight of Antonio Barrera, the most gored matador of the past years -23 times-, focusing on his family’s fears and his own determination to defy death.
"Bullfighting is an impossible, hubristic attempt by these men to control nature”
"Antonio Barrera fell into my lap very unexpectedly” recalls Mizrahy. "My writing and producing partner of many years, Geoff Gray, had written a story about Antonio for Sports Illustrated in 2011 and had stayed in touch with him. When he found out Antonio was retiring he asked me if I wanted to film his final bullfight”.
Mizrahy admits knowing nothing about bullfighting and, in his own words, he found it to be brutal: "an impossible, hubristic attempt by these men to control nature and kill a powerful animal for the audience's satisfaction”.
But that was exactly why Antonio Barrera was so interesting to him. "Had he been a famous, well-liked bullfighter, I would have had very little interest in him. It was the fact that he in many ways did not have a place in the world of bullfighting, relegated to its fringes and un-liked by most fans that I found so appealing. I found his endless and deadly attempts at glory, that didn't seem to come his way, fascinating and surprisingly sympathetic”.
"Bullfighting is very much the canvas, but the story is about a relentless man who from a young age was groomed to be something he couldn't live up to. The fear of not being good enough at whatever it is we pursue in our lives is something we all deal with on some level” says Mizrahy. "Antonio was never allowed to re-consider his dream, pushed hard from the age of 7 by his father. And while he couldn't rise to the level expected of him, he found out he was very good at something else - repeatedly coming back from the dead. In many ways he fell in love with death. Some of his biggest bullfighting heroes had died in the bullring and so Antonio started viewing death as a ticket to greatness. That's what I was interested in. Not so much bullfighting as a spectacle, but more as the world he was born and bred in, a world he could only conquer or escape by dying”.
How did you create such an intimate bond with the character and his family so that they ended up confessing you their fears and the bullfighter’s contradictions?
We were very fortunate to earn Antonio and his family's trust. I think they could tell we would never abuse their trust and present the story honestly and at eye level, and so they really opened up to us. Of course it helped that they were all gearing up to this fateful moment - his final performance. The tension and fear they felt turned us to practically invisible. It was almost as if they knew Antonio's final performance might be a tragic event and wanted it to be documented. The camera became an important tool for them to express fears and emotions they've kept in for some many years.
How did you perceive during the shooting the passion bullfighting awakens nowadays in Mexico and Spain?
Bullfighting is an ancient spectacle with roots going hundreds, if not thousands of years back, it is far too brutal and bloody for most people to accept in the modern world. We do not view killing animals as entertainment anymore, and for a good reason. And so the remaining fans become even more protective of their beloved spectacle. Feeling the pressure from the majority of society that believes in animal rights, or at the very least doesn't appreciate the torture of animals, the bullfighting fans fight to preserve their tradition.
"I found his deadly attempts at glory fascinating and surprisingly sympathetic”.
The filmmaker ends up saying that Barrera is hardly a choice that a bullfighting fan would make. "He is not exactly a poster boy for bullfighting. That's what I loved about him and why I was able to make a film that takes place in this world. His repeated punishment by the bulls and his refusal to stop bullfighting was the best way to show the contrast between the passion and tradition, and the obsession and futility of this spectacle.