The Cinema of Carlos Reygadas has spoiled me/opened my eyes in terms of how Mexico & Mexicans are portrayed on film (I'm well aware he isn't the first Mexican filmmaker to paint a broader picture of his/her country, but he's my personal favorite in that realm). Mexicans have faced some of the same stereotypes & misrepresentations on film as Africans. The difference is that instead of apartheid, genocide, poverty & struggle (the main themes explored in mainstream/prominent African-based movies), Mexicans are portrayed as drug addicted/drug dealing prostitutes (usually by non-Mexican filmmakers of course). Naturally there are exceptions (I'm speaking generally) but I think we can all agree there are shitty stereotypes attached to Mexicans and a big part of that comes from movies. Period.
Just look at a recent film Sicario. While I like that movie very much it's still another prominent film to portray Mexico as this savage land (a chunk of the story takes place in Juarez). The minute we see the characters cross the border in to Mexico, we see mutilated bodies hanging freely out in the open. I’m not so clueless to know that Juarez was (still is?) one of the most dangerous places on the planet (some statistics indicate that Juarez has become safer over the years), but Sicario still perpetuates certain stereotypes about Latinos on the big screen. I may be projecting my own worries but the more stuff like Narcos, Sicario & Breaking Bad exist (all things I enjoy by the way, the tougher it is to sell the educated Latino in mainstream film.
I've been selling Bleak Street to folks as an arthouse film about Luchadors but it's really more than that (a lot more). The film follows two elderly prostitutes each with their own personal issues at home. One struggles with depression & loneliness while the other has a sexually confused husband. At the same time we follow two up & coming midget Luchadors with dreams of making it big. The prostitutes are eventually hired by the Luchador wrestlers to celebrate after a show. The women set out a plan to rob the midget wrestlers but things go horribly wrong. There's an interesting dynamic between the two sets of main characters in Bleak Street. The prostitutes are "over the hill" (if that's appropriate to say about prostitutes) in terms of looks & clientele, while the Luchadors are at a point in their careers where they can still attain more success and just be a little more optimistic about life.
There's an incredibly strong nostalgic quality about this movie that takes over inside me and I highly doubt most people that this film was marketed towards can fully relate. Growing up I was the one kid in my group of friends that truly loved wrestling (I had two other friends who liked it in a casual way - shoutout to Ahmad & Tom - but overall it was a joke to most people and I got shit for liking it). When I discovered the cultural importance of Luchadors/Mexican wrestlers in my mid-teens it instilled a little more pride in me and made me feel less ashamed for liking wrestling. Seriously – if you think pro-wrestling is popular in America, go to certain parts of Mexico where wrestlers are considered gods. They even wear their masks in non-wrestling settings (for those who have seen Bleak Street and don't believe the angle about the wrestlers keeping their masks on all the time in public, I assure you that is very real in certain parts of Mexico as their masks have cultural, religious & generational importance).
What's strange is that for such a popular form of sports entertainment, art-house/indie cinema seems to explore pro-wrestling more than mainstream cinema. Darren Aronofsky gave us The Wrestler, Guy Maddin made the short film Sombra Dolorosa and there are elements of Lucha Libre in Carlos Reygadas' short film This Is My Kingdom (you can even go back further to Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre)
The Luchador In Arthouse Cinema...
|This Is My Kingdom (Carlos Reygadas)|
|Sombra Dolorosa (Guy Maddin)|
|Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky)|
and his signature mask is modeled after the Lucha design...
Anyway...Bleak Street does have a lot of the stereotypical stuff I mentioned earlier but it's handled in-house instead of by an outside director (director Arturo Ripstein is Mexican) which is fine by me. Carlos Reygadas is one of the most important voices for Latin American cinema but there is an undertone of elitism in his work that not everyone can relate to. It's good to explore the more cultured side of Mexico (as a black person/person of color I absolutely embrace the more uppity representation of people of color over coon-ish bullshit), but the impoverished side of Mexico can't be brushed aside either. The main characters in Bleak Street probably don't watch Tarkovsky films or read books by Dostoevsky (two artists Reygadas often references in his movies and in interviews). They were dealt a shitty hand at life and their decisions in the movie are a reflection of that (I also don't want to discredit Carlos Reygadas because he does explore the more impoverished side of Mexico with films like Battle In Heaven). And, most importantly, Bleak Street was inspired by true events so there isn't anything unbelievable or naive about this movie...
|the real wrestlers that Bleak Street is partially based on: La Parkita (L) & Espectrito (R)|
And what’s crazy is that wrestling and death (or just straight up murder) often times go hand-in-hand. Bleak Street has a subconscious connection to more recent stories like the Jimmy Snuka trial (he murdered a female fan back in the early 80’s and it’s finally being addressed now) and the (accidental) in-ring death of Mexican wrestler Perro Aguayo Jr.
Ultimately, Arturo Ripstein treats wrestling with respect which is something that isn’t guaranteed in the world of art-house cinema as those two entities aren’t often associated with each other and it’s easy for an uppity art-house movie crowd to snicker at the idea of masked wrestlers due to lack of knowledge. Most movie-goers aren't even aware that The Rock is a third generation wrestler (actually, he's a third generation wrestler on his mother's side and a second generation wrestler on his father's side), and he came up in the business. It’s almost like Ripstein went so far as to watch shoot interviews (tell-all wrestling interviews) and read up on the culture in obsessive detail during pre-production of Bleak Street. For example - a common complaint amongst non-Mexican/non-luchador wrestlers is that the wrestling mats in Mexico are too hard and a lot less springy than in the U.S. When you watch the training sequence between the wrestlers in Bleak Street you’ll notice that when they take bumps, the mat doesn’t bounce when compared to the mats you see on TV in the WWE that almost serve as lightweight trampolines in comparison (if you have time to spare, look up shoot interviews & podcasts with the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow & Chris Jericho where they recount their stints working in Mexico as foreigners).