You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


Lots of fighting and bull but not much else.

With: Adrien Brody, Penelope Cruz, Santiago Segura, Juan Echanove, Ann Mitchell, Josep Lineusa, Nacho Aldeguer, Pedro Casablanc.

The passionate affair of a famous Spanish bullfighter and his hotblooded mistress amounts to lots of fighting and bull but not much else in Menno Meyjes’ period drama “Manolete.” Doing what they can with a soap opera-style script that never delves into the nitty-gritty of one of the “only real sports” (according to Hemingway), stars Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz go mano a mano for 90 minutes and leave the ring barely breathing. Shot in 2006, this €21 million ($28 million) co-production is receiving a small-scale release in Gaul and other Euro territories; Stateside, a distributor has yet to shout “ole!”

Though budget problems are purportedly behind the long-delayed theatrical run (it preemed at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival), the film also has suffered the wrath of animal activists in France and Spain, who have called for its boycott.

In reality, the film includes only one actual bullfighting scene, in the closing reels, but it’s so fragmented into extreme closeups, dissolves and slow-motion (and was apparently shot without using real bulls) that the thrill is lost. Whatever art there may be in this controversial sport, it’s clearly not the focus of the screenplay by vet scribe Meyjes (“The Color Purple,” “The Siege”), who compresses historical events and characters into a sappy melodrama that relies on multiple flashbacks to keep things moving.

It’s 1947, and the 30-year-old Manolete (Brody) — whose revolutionary bullring techniques are never explained or revealed — is already a superstar in Franco-ruled Spain. Flashback to 18 months earlier: When Manolete crosses paths with actress Lupe Sino (Cruz), his team of handlers warn him to keep away, but the naive matador can’t resist. As the two spend more and more time together, their bedroom trysts grow more and more wicked (a laughable scene crosscuts between Lupe, dressed in lingerie, and images of a charging bull as she yells “Hurt me!”), and the champ begins to lose his fighting spirit.

Shuffling between the chaotic romance and the hours leading up to Manolete’s final bout, the film seems to portray Lupe as the Yoko Ono of bullfighting, responsible in large part for the great toreador’s downfall. But it leaves out perhaps the major reason why she was so hated by his entourage: She had left-wing sympathies while many of them were fervent supporters of the dictatorship. Without any political background, the most we can surmise is that Lupe is a “whore,” as everyone openly calls her throughout the film (though once, in a fit of rage, Manolete calls her a “stupid cow” — perhaps the ultimate bullfighter’s insult.)

Brody shares some physical resemblance with the actual historical figure (shown in opening newsreel footage) and has the grace and stoicism needed to depict a character who, despite the machismo of his metier, was apparently a sensitive and introverted person. But there’s a real mismatch here between his gringo accent and all the Spanish decor and costumes, while Cruz has clearly been cast to play the kind of red-hot drama queen she’s pulled off infinitely better in the films of Pedro Almodovar.

Tech credits — especially the art direction by Salvador Parra (Almodovar’s “Volver”) and colorful lensing by Robert Yeoman (“The Darjeeling Limited”) — are superb, but wasted on a movie that glosses over the very elements that would have made it interesting.

Popular on Variety



Production: A Quinta Communications (in France) release of an Iberoamericana Films Prod. (Spain)/Future Films, Manolete Prods. (U.K.)/Pierce Williams Entertainment (U.S.)/Quinta Communications (France) production, in association with E-M-S New Media, Trivision, with participation of Canal Espana. (International sales: HandMade Films, London.) Produced by Andres Vincente Gomez, Tarak Ben Ammar. Executive producers, Michael Ryan, Stephen Kay, Stephen Margolis, Werner Wirsing. Directed, written by Menno Meyjes.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Robert Yeoman; editor, Sylvie Landra; music, Dan Jones, Javier Limon; production designer, Salvador Parra; costume designer, Sonia Grande; sound (Dolby Digital), Antoine Bloch, Frederic Le Louet, James Munoz; special effects supervisors, Jonathan Hills, Alfonso Nieto; bullfighting consultants, Juan Antonio Ruiz, Cayetano Rivera Ordonez; assistant director, Jorge Calvo; casting, Camila-Valentine Isola. (In 2008 Toronto Film Festival.) Reviewed at UGC Orient Express 1, Paris, April 4, 2010. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Adrien Brody, Penelope Cruz, Santiago Segura, Juan Echanove, Ann Mitchell, Josep Lineusa, Nacho Aldeguer, Pedro Casablanc.

More Film

  • Blake Lively

    Blake Lively's 'Rhythm Section' Moved Back to 2020

    Paramount Pictures has moved the release date of Blake Lively’s “The Rhythm Section” back two months from Nov. 22 to Jan. 31, 2020, the weekend of Super Bowl LIV. The spy tale, adapted from Mark Burnell’s novels surrounding character Stephanie Patrick, is produced by James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson through their [...]

  • The Mandalorian

    'The Mandalorian': Watch the First Trailer for 'Star Wars' Series

    The gunslinging lone warrior — the Mandalorian, as they call him — calls the far reaches of the “Star Wars” galaxy home. Disney dropped the first trailer for the spinoff series during its biennial D23 convention on Friday, finally giving fans a closer look at the franchise’s newest character. “The Mandalorian” creator Jon Favreau, who [...]

  • Lady and the Tramp trailer

    'Lady and the Tramp': Disney's Live-Action Remake Gets First Trailer (Watch)

    Ready your dog-friendly bowl of spaghetti, Disney has debuted the first trailer for its live-action remake of “Lady and the Tramp,” starring Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux. The teaser was released during Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim at the Disney + presentation. In addition to Thompson and Theroux, who play the Lady and Tramp, respectively, [...]

  • Mickey Mouse waves to members of

    Spider-Man, Spicer and Splashy First-Looks: Everything We're Looking For at D23

    As if Disney hasn’t owned enough weekends this year at the box office, the biennial D23 Expo will light up Anaheim, Calif. over the next three days to celebrate the content monolith. From a new Netflix-competing streaming platform to scores of movie and series reveals — along with a few hot controversies to confront — [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    'Angel Has Fallen' to Dominate Modest Box Office With $20 Million Weekend

    Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman are leading the way at the North American box office with “Angel Has Fallen” on its way to about $20 million, early estimates showed Friday. Should forecasts hold, “Angel Has Fallen” will take in about double the next title, Universal’s second weekend of raunchy comedy “Good Boys” with about $10 [...]

  • Aracne

    Sanfic Standout ‘Aracne’ Filmmakers Discuss the State of Chilean Genre

    A key project at this year’s Santiago Lab, the Santiago Intl. Film Festival industry forum for promising Latin American projects, Florencia Dupont’s “Aracne” is representative of a push from the next generation of Chilean filmmakers into genre cinema and the themes it can explore. “Aracne” turns on Beatriz, a young journalist at a small Santiago [...]

  • Eduardo Machuca

    Chile’s Eduardo Machuca Unveils Machuca Films Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

    SANTIAGO, Chile – Eduardo Machuca, the former film co-ordinator of Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has launched his own production company, Machuca Films. “After 25 years at the ministry, I felt I needed to tap my creative side,” said Machuca, who is also tying the knot on Saturday (Aug. 24) with a former Sanfic staffer, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content