When the skills go, they go. So when it comes to the topic of professional wrestling and the bodies that are exposed to years of punishing and perpetual injuries, the tired cliché of “act in haste, repent at leisure” becomes cruelly appropriate. Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz’ documentary observes the lives of a handful of wrestlers working in Mexico’s lucha libre circuit, men and women who take refuge from personal demons through the theatrics of a profession that’s as much a gig as it is a birthright.
Structurally, Hammond and Markiewicz lay out Lucha Mexico as an ethnographic document, highlighting the country’s geography by probing the histories behind various Mexican stadiums and arenas. This is then augmented by a scant acknowledgement of the major promotions on the scene, most notable to American audiences being Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA) and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL). Finally, this is complemented by the picture’s primary narrative elements: the luchadores themselves. From wrestlers like Shocker, Blue Demon Jr., Sexy Star, and Perro Aguayo Jr., Lucha Mexico follows these athletes as they prepare for upcoming matches, contend with dilapidating injuries, and attempt to make sense of an increasingly bloodthirsty and dissident fanbase.
The chief highlight of Hammond and Markiewicz' filmmaking comes their casual observations of the world around them. Early sequences of the film of reminiscent of the approach that one sees in a Frederick Wiseman film, most notably Boxing Gym, where the directors observe luchadores in training. They move through the sanctified corridors of Arena México, as audience members fill the sorbet seating of the indoor stadium. It’s a pointedly succinct method of filmmaking that relishes in examination.
There is a distinct thematic intention that pervades the picture: the overarching sense of fragility associated with such a demanding sport. Shocker, the stage name of Jair Soria Reyna, embodies the issue most concisely and eventually takes over the documentary. Hammond and Markiewicz observe Shocker as the peak of his popularity, struck by a serious knee injury, and his attempts at mounting a comeback. Elsewhere we see the rich tradition of Blue Demon Jr. threatened by the more violent tendencies of a younger and wrestling-literate fanbase. This fanbase finds their hero in Perro Aguayo Jr., with his narrative concluding in a cruel twist of faith that’s worthy of greater introspection.
And that’s where Lucha Mexico will test its viewer’s patience. In between its ethnographic observations, its study of the historical shift in contemporary Mexican lucha libre, and the touching narratives behind the entertainers who literally risk their lives on a nightly basis – from crowds of thousands to backyard fairs attended by less than 50 fans - Hammond and Markiewicz don’t give any one moment too much consideration before moving onto another. Feature length films can be derived from Shocker, Blue Demon Jr., Sexy Star, and Perro Aguayo Jr.’s stories, as can a film about the history of lucha libre or a meditation on the institution of any of the organizations that are prevalent in its production. Lucha Mexico takes these macro narratives and condenses it to placate a broad palette, but more finesse could’ve really made this document from something interesting to something truly exceptional.