Libertarias

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“More like sitting through an earnest lecture in Politics 1.0.1, at a college of dubious merit. “

Like most civil wars, the Spanish one was a nasty, brutal affair that split families as well as the nation. Not that you’d know it from this, which suggests the citizens were entirely behind the anarchist forces: odd how the opposing Fascist forces not only prevailed, but then held power for close to 40 years. You don’t do that without significant popular support. Putting that aside (for the moment), this is the story of Maria (Gil), a young nun ‘liberated’ from her convent as the Civil War gets under way, amid a wave of anti-religious fervour. Initially just trying to get home to Zaragosa, she’s escorted by militant militia woman Pilar (Belen), and eventually decides to join their female fighting force and take up arms against the Fascists. That puts them at odds not just with the men in charge, but many of their own sex, who would rather see them doing laundry and providing ancilliary support, rather than in the front lines.

Actually, I can see from this why they lost, because this comes across as a bunch of idealistic anarchists, playing at soldiers, and going up against the real thing. The results were hardly surprising (and I also note the hypocrisy on view, in a society which professes the equality of men and women, while actively discriminating against the latter). It’s not an area of history with which I’m all that familiar, and the lead actresses did a good job with what were really paper-thin characters – oh, look, it’s a prostitute with a heart of gold. When it sticks to the central group, it’s a lot more successful than when it tries to broaden things out, for example by the inclusion of a former priest with the hots for Maria. It’s also way too heavy-handed with the politics and political symbolism, and the final section, while certainly an effective illustration of the brutality present in armed conflict, comes out of nowhere and jars badly with the tone set by the rest of the film.

There are a few moments which do stand out, such as Maria lecturing the Fascist troops with Anarchist propaganda through a megaphone – that goes about as well as you’d expect. But the bulk of its over two-hour running time is a chore, with a story that feels built around and forced into making its political points, and is only loosely masquerading as entertainment.

Dir: Vicente Aranda
Star: Ariadna Gil, Ana Belen, Victoria Abril, Blanca Apilanez

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

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“A thoroughly satisfactory snapshot of a pop-culture element from another era. “

It has now been almost a quarter-century since GLOW was cancelled in 1990, and there still hasn’t been anything quite like it on television in the Western world: a pro wrestling federation entirely populated by women wrestlers. The brainchild of David McLane, and funded by Pia Zadora’s husband, the owner of the Riviera casino in Las Vegas, GLOW was a marvel of eighties low-budget television, mixing self-effacing comedy (it depicted McLane as having his office in a phone booth) with larger-than-life characters such as Matilda the Hun, and of course, wrestling matches. This documentary tells the story of the federation’s rise and fall – largely through the eyes of the women, as McLane and Matt Cimber, the show’s director, both declined to be formally interviewed (which is a shame, as it would definitely have provided another dimension for the film).

It’s a fascinating story, of something which probably never should have worked, but succeeded in a way that remains unmatched. Almost all the women had no wrestling experience, but were trained under Mando Guerrero (the brother of late WWE superstar Eddie) to develop skills that, from the relatively brief clips shown, weren’t much worse than certain current WWE divas I could mention. The stars didn’t just work together, but also roomed together, with rules governing their behaviour, more reminiscent of A League of Their Own than late-eighties Las Vegas! They don’t hold back on their distrust of Cimber and his often dubious motivational methods, insulting the women, but respect the fact they were allowed input into and control over their characters, which were often just larger-than-life versions of themselves. There’s also cringe-inducing footage of a match where one of the wrestler seriously damaged her elbow, proving again the fallacy of “wrestling = fake”.

But the most touching part, which gives the film an emotional heart not often seen in documentaries, concerns “Mount Fuji”, a.k.a. Emily Dole, a Samoan and former shot-putter, who was part of the roster. However, her weight (over 300 lbs) caused her health to deteriorate, and when she was located during filming, she was unable to walk, but still spoke very fondly of her time with the girls. One of the GLOW wrestlers, inspired by the documentary, organized a reunion, bringing women together who in some cases hadn’t seen each other for twenty years. I won’t say any more than that, but let’s just say, it’s been a bad season for allergies here in Phoenix. :) It’s a fine ending, that wraps up the loose ends and completes this in more than adequate fashion.

Dir: Brett Whitcomb
Star: Mount Fiji, Tina Ferrari, Ninotchka, Big Bad Mama