Betty M. Park’s “Mamachas del Ring” is intended as an ode to feisty-spirited cholitas — traditionally attired, indigenous Bolivian women — who yearn to compete in the male-dominated world of professional wrestling in and around La Paz. Unfortunately, this sincere but insubstantial doc does little to dispel the impression that the designated villain of the piece, a control-freakish wrestling league commissioner, may be justified in dismissing Park’s more sympathetically rendered subjects as too undisciplined and disorganized to succeed on their own. Worse, there’s surprisingly little actual wrestling footage, suggesting even Park felt these cholitas weren’t all that great as grapplers.
Promising early scenes grab attention as the charismatic Carmen Rosa — nicknamed “La Campeona” (the Champion) — returns home to La Paz with three other cholita wrestlers after a triumphant TV appearance in Peru. But the women (who wear bowler hats and pollera skirts, not spandex and spangles, in the ring) quickly run afoul of league commissioner (and, evidently, auto-repair shop owner) Don Juan Mamani, who arbitrarily decides to keep the women in their place by limiting their employment opportunities.
Enraged, Carmen Rosa and two sister wrestlers break away from Mamani’s organization to book bouts on their own. But for various reasons — including, Park duly notes, Carmen Rosa’s unwise overeating before an out-of-town match — the three women are unable to generate much momentum for their independent careers. Internecine squabbles and demands by Carmen Rosa’s increasingly impatient husband further impede their progress. Pic’s melancholy final scene is understated and affecting.
Park, a Brooklyn-based Korean-American filmmaker, makes little effort to hide or even temper her sympathies, and relies on amusing but overlong sequences of claymation animation (by Christophe Lopez-Huici) to make Carmen Rosa appear even more heroic and Mamani downright satanic. But there are some conspicuous gaps in the narrative — most notably, the lack of a payoff after the cholita wrestlers go to great lengths to illegally re-enter Peru for a match. Here and elsewhere, auds may wonder whether a more complete (and far more complex) story could have been told, but wasn’t.
High-def lensing by Alexander Ramirez Munoz is exceptional.