Thanks in part to John Cena memes and Dwayne “he’ll always be ‘The Rock’ to me” Johnson’s crossover stardom, professional wrestling has regained some of its cultural cachet in recent years — making it approximately one-tenth as revered here as it is in Mexico.
“Kayfabe” is highly respected among our neighbors to the south, with many luchadores going so far as to wear their masks in public and keep their true identities hidden in order to maintain suspension of disbelief. Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz explore that commitment in their thorough documentary Lucha Mexico, which centers on workaday grapplers trying to feed their families and prolong the high they get from performing in front of crowds large and small.
Much of the action takes place in Mexico City’s hallowed Arena México, long considered the Madison Square Garden of lucha libre, though fairgrounds and gymnasiums host the bouts just as often. The film’s most worthy detour is into the history and personal significance of masks. (El Santo, arguably the most iconic wrestler in Mexican history, publicly removed his only once — a week before his death. He was even buried in it.)
Two of the luchadores featured in Lucha Mexico have since died — one in the ring, the other after a series of incidents the filmmakers link to his unmasking — in a harsh reminder that this business so often takes more from its performers than it gives back. Almost as troubling are the musings of an aging luchador unsure how much longer his body will allow him to soldier on — and what he’ll do with himself once he finally hangs up his boots for good.
Directed by Alex Hammond & Ian Markiewicz
Opens July 15, Museum of the Moving Image