“Gored,” the story of Antonio Barrera, the most gored bullfighter in history, sounds like a candidate for a horror film.
In the hands of director Ido Mizrahy, however, the look at an aging performer operating on the fringes of his chosen profession, becomes a meditation on obsession, personal sacrifice and the push and pull of modernity.
“Bullfighting is an incredible brutal spectacle, and part of me is happy to see it go away,” said Mizrahy. “In the same way Antonio is being phased out of the world of bullfighting, bullfighting is being phased out of the world.”
“Gored” opens Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was producer Geoffrey Gray, who first found out about Barrera’s reputation for being frequently injured in the ring and wrote a 2011 piece for Sports Illustrated on the man who had endured 23 gorings and kept coming back for more. He described Barrera as “the Rocky Balboa” of bullfighting. Not the best matador by any stretch, but one with grit and heart and spirit.
“I love what the underdog represents in our culture,” said Gray. “It’s a person who refuses to give up against all odds even though their dream might not be attainable.”
Gray had worked with Mizrahy on “Patrolman P,” a 2014 look at corruption in the New York City police department that also screened at Tribeca, and urged the documentary filmmaker to take on Barrera as his next subject. A news hook appeared after Barrera announced his impending retirement and agreed to allow the filmmakers to shoot his preparation for his final confrontation with a bull and the aftermath of his life after bullfighting.
That was a pivotal moment in Barrera’s life, because from childhood he had been trained by an overbearing father for life as a bullfighter. Married, with a family, he had begun to fear for his own life — an obsession with mortality that was particularly dangerous given his work.
“After he became a father, he finally began to see the toll this was taking on his family,” said Mizrahy. “But when his dreams disappeared, he had a hard time handling that.”
In interviews, Barrera admitted that he struggled to adjust to hanging up his matador’s cape and abandoning his quest for glory.
The clock was ticking on Barrera’s career, but bullfighting is also feeling the ground shift underneath it. “Gored” shrewdly illustrates that the love of bullfighting that still captivates much of southern Spain is under attack. At points in the picture, the filmmakers subtly include images of protesters agitating against the practice and what they argue is animal abuse.
Like Mizrahy, Gray has reservations about bullfighting, though he has also tried with his article and this film to acknowledge the quasi-religious hold it has on parts of the globe.
“A character like Antonio reminds us that time is fleeting and should be celebrated and life should be lived,” he said. “I’m not sure we need to kill something to learn that, but it is something that triggers that feeling in people.”