Directors: Paola Calvo, Patrick Jasim (Mexico, Germany) Year of Release: 2022
A bus in Northern Mexico, full of women. A voiceover tells us the bus’s history. It takes female workers to the factory which, since the NAFTA agreement, has become one of the cash cows of US capitalism. One evening, it took a different route than normal. It stopped in the wilderness, and the driver raped the woman passenger. She survived but was too traumatized by the social shame to tell her story.
Cut to: a woman working in a funeral parlour. She lives in Ciudad Juárez – the “most dangerous place in the world”. Across the US border, you can see El Paso, which she calls “the safest city in the world”. Even if you’re not sure she’s right on that one, you can appreciate the difference between the two places. They’re separated my a fence “like the one I have at home”, but you have to cross a bridge full of security guards to get across the border.
One day, the woman’s abusive husband took her kids and moved to El Paso. She has had no contact with them till April – whenever she tried to ring them, her husband picked up but didn’t answer. Now he knows her number, he doesn’t pick up at all. To get to see them she needs a passport and visa, but applications usually get refused and the visa alone would cost her $160. The funeral parlour pays her $50 a week.
It takes a while to get orientated, to work out what Luchadoras is about. The title is Spanish for female fighters, but that only helps you so far in understanding what the different stories that you are being shown have in common. Then it gradually becomes clear. These are all back stories of female wrestlers, part of the lucha libera circuit in Ciudad Juárez,
We are told in particular the stories of three fighters – each of them single mothers, although two of the three – Lady Candy, who works in the funeral parlour, and Mina Sirenita – no longer live with their kids. Mini would love to organise a reunion with her daughter, who has gone to live in Mexico City, but she can’t afford the travel on the wages they pay at the factory. This is why, at the age of 40, she’s returning to the ring.
Baby Star does live with her daughter, and is finally rid of her controlling husband who made her stop wrestling for a while. Baby wears a mask, which she’s inherited from her father who also wrestled back in the day. Her 16-year old sister Little Star has just started, and the two sisters often take part in a tag team together. It’s not like the tag wrestling they used to show on World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon, in lucha libera, tag wrestling means that everyone’s in the ring together.
We see some bouts, and they seem a great deal of fun, often taking place beyond the ropes as the wrestlers fall into the audience and carrying on fighting. We also watch the wrestlers training, with elaborate routines as they work out how they can throw and fall without breaking their backs. It’s never explicitly said that the performances are all choreographed and it’s decided in advance who will win, but it sure looks like it.
For all this, Luchadoras is much less about wrestling as such than it is about the wrestlers. We see each of them struggling with the problems faced by working class women throughout society. There is some talk about machismo, and I guess that some viewers may see this as being a particular Mexican problem, but it really isn’t. The main thing that is driving down each of the women’s lives is poverty.
Having said this, this is not a film where people sit back and suffer. Although the main reason that each of the women fights seems to be because it pays so much better than any other local jobs. Yet being in the ring also seems to give them a sense of pride, a sense of control over their own lives. It shows that they are fighting, not just in a sporting sense, but that they are confronting an unequal society which keeps them down.
Every so often, the film strays away from its heroines into the city. We the posters on outside walls looking for women who have disappeared. We see a demonstration against macho violence. This sense of female solidarity is also seen in the wrestling matches, one of which starts with a chant from all attendees – male and female – calling for the patriarchy to be abolished.
Luchadoras can be a little disjointed, and occasionally it is a little too unclear about what is actually happening. Maybe the direction could be a bit tighter, but this might make the film a little too professional. One of the thing that makes the film good is its informality, which means that we get to know the characters without the distancing you get with some documentaries. Here, you feel that you’re watching real people rather than the objects of some experiment.
Definitely worth a watch.