David Fandila is bland and uni-browed—classic nerd material. But once he steps into the ring, this Spanish Clark Kent transforms into El Fandi, a preening, balls-out bullfighter determined to become one of the few matadors in history to complete 100 corridas in a single year. With a restless camera and quick-paced edits enhanced by a lush, flamenco-infused score, director Stephen Higgins and co-director Nina Gilden Seavey’s documentary tracks El Fandi’s quest for greatness over three years, chronicling setbacks (a twisted ankle that knocks him out of the 2003 season) as well as bloody triumphs (laying out six bulls in a single day, with a halftime break for surgery to repair a deep gore to his abdomen) that brings him to 97 dead toros for 2004. The filmmakers’ keen journalistic eye picks out the details that matter, those that speak of the love shared by the Fandila family and of how heavily their expectations weigh on the matador’s young shoulders. The Matador reserves judgment while raising the core issue concerning this traditional ritual: deep, poetic cultural expression or glorified animal cruelty? Then there’s the complex relationship between man and bull, at least from the human’s anthropomorphizing point of view that casts the beast as a complicit, sometimes even noble opponent.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 29, 2008