ONLY THE BRAVE enters the world of bullfighting, creating a lavish portrait of this wildly popular and highly controversial sport. Due to its lush visuals and dramatic structure, ONLY THE BRAVE is an engaging documentary, but its uncritical approach is unlikely to satisfy those opposed
to blood sport.
ONLY THE BRAVE focuses on a young matador ("torero"), Enrique Ponce, preparing for a triumphant summer in the ring. The film traces his rigorous training and his accomplished performances, culminating in one fierce fight against a bull considered such a noble opponent that Ponce spares his life
as a dramatic gesture. By season's end, the 20-year-old Ponce enjoys the kind of status in Spain and Latin America ordinarily accorded to pop stars.
ONLY THE BRAVE also travels beyond the ring to examine bullfighting as a social and cultural phenomenon. The artistic and religious dimensions of this cultural tradition, reflected in the highly-choreographed bullfights, are explicated in some dramatic (if heavy-handed) juxtapositions. The
baptism of a child who will hopefully become a torero is intercut with the branding of a calf. The creation of an elaborate costume for Enrique Ponce is contrasted with the skinning and butchering of a dead bull. The battle between man and beast is presented as a battle between life and death.
This celebration of the most macho of blood sports was directed and photographed by women. Director Sonia Herman Dolz was born in Spain, but grew up in the Netherlands; this, her debut feature, was made for Dutch and English television. The cinematography is expertly handled by Ellen Kuras, an
American who was honored at Sundance in 1992 for her work on SWOON. Ironically, there are almost no women in front of the camera (unless you count the Virgin of Guadelupe!).
ONLY THE BRAVE is a generally fascinating and informative film; at times, however, its sumptuous beauty and dramatic musical score, combined with a virtual absence of critical rigor, make the film feel like an extended version of the music video for Madonna's "Take A Bow." The ethics of blood
sport are never called into question, and, although there's not much actual fighting shown, this film is not for the squeamish. (Graphic violence.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: ONLY THE BRAVE enters the world of bullfighting, creating a lavish portrait of this wildly popular and highly controversial sport. Due to its lush visuals and dramatic structure, ONLY THE BRAVE is an engaging documentary, but its uncritical approach is unl… (more)