Taryn St. Giles is an out of work archaeologist, who has taken up bounty hunting in order to pay the overdue rent, after the untimely death of her current patron. However, her latest target turns out to be considerably more than she can handle. For Alric is a master of both disguise and hand-to-hand combat, and Taryn’s pursuit of him rapidly entangles the heroine in a deepening web of magic and intrigue. The titular artifact – which doesn’t actually show up until well into the second half – is a potential gate, which could open a doorway and leave this world a thoroughly unpleasant place for just about everyone. Fortunately, Taryn has friends both academic and physically-inclined on her side, as well as a trio of semi-domesticated fairies. Though the last-named are engaged in their own war, with a local family of squirrels.
That last sentence should give you an idea that this is not a novel which takes itself, its world or its heroine entirely seriously. And that’s half the appeal, with Taryn being a snarky yet persistent little tomb raider, who is genuinely appealing. Her curiosity is forever getting the better of her – but she has to rely much more on her wits than any Lara Croft-esque antics. Well, except when intoxicated, when she gets a bit… strange. That change manifests itself in a couple of different ways, at least one of which proves essential to the plot at the climax. It’s the only true major set-piece in terms of direct action involving her, but Taryn’s other qualities – bravery, loyalty, inquisitiveness and a moderate resistance to magic – are sufficient to get her over the threshold here. Indeed, it came as a surprise in the middle of the book, when she explicitly stated she has “no real skill” with weapons.
This wasn’t the only unexpected twist. While there are references to trolls, elves, etc. it also turns out that one major character is mostly feline and another is (I think) snake. That aspect of the world could have been made a great deal clearer. Otherwise, however, Andreas has a good eye for quirky personalities. Particularly outstanding are the trio of fairies – Crusty Bucket, Garbage Blossom and Leaf Grub – and their monarch, “High Queen Princess Buttercup Turtledove RatBatZee Growltigerious Mungoosey, Empress of all.” Glorious.
Both Taryn and Alric appear to have their share of dark secrets buried in the past – very deeply buried, in her case. While I strongly suspect there will be more romantic tension down the road, those aspects are kept light here. Indeed, Taryn’s spectacular fail of a dating experience, chronicled here, would likely put me off the opposite sex for quite a while. It works perfectly well as a standalone book, building to an appropriate finale and wrapping up most of the immediate loose ends, yet leaving enough intriguing questions dangling. I’m left inclined to pick up the second volume.
Author: Marie Andreas Publisher: Amazon Digital Services, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.
“Who takes the child by the hand takes the mother by the heart.”
This crisp little Argentinian film clocks in at 70 minutes – not even enough to be considered a feature by the Screen Actors Guild. You’ll understand, therefore, there isn’t much fat on its bones. Virginia (Cardinali) has left her husband, taking daughter, Rebecca (Duranda), with her. But a moment’s inattention at a gas-station proves fatal, as Rebecca is abducted, and Virginia’s car driven off the road during the subsequent pursuit. Brought back (from the dead?) by a mysterious stranger (Ferro), she is told Rebecca has been chosen by a religious cult as a sacrifice. It’s up to Virginia to stop them, and she can let no-one get in her way. Which becomes an issue, for we quickly find out, she is not the only mother looking to recover a child from the cult – and, it appears, only one can succeed.
It’s a blowdart of a movie, picking nastily away at the scab of “How far would a mother go to save her own child?” – and keeping at it. “No, really. How far?” It does require a certain suspension of disbelief, not least in Virginia’s inexplicable failure even to attempt contacting the authorities regarding her missing child, surely the first thing most people would do. If you are able to get past that – and it is likely the plot’s biggest weakness – then you’ve got a steady descent into hell. The unspoken question which informs everything is whether the stranger actually has her best interests at heart, or is simply pulling her strings. Weird sacrificial cults in rural places tend to do that, as anyone who has seen The Wicker Man knows. And if to you, that means only the Nicolas Cage version: my sympathies on your loss.
However, there are elements of another Cage movie here: Drive Angry, in which he played a criminal who came out of the grave, to track down the cult who are preparing to sacrifice his grand-daughter. This is nowhere near as lurid: save for perhaps one sequence involving a chainsaw, this is more about psychological torment than the physical. For example, Virginia’s quest involves tracking down and burning the white coffin referred to in the title (the subtitle translates as “A diabolical game”). Yet as the film goes on, it becomes clear that any success in this is going to come at a hellish cost to her own humanity – and, arguably, that of her daughter as well.
The quote at the top is a German proverb (or maybe Danish, depending which Internet site you believe), and it’s an appropriate summary, though doesn’t capture the thoroughly mean-spirited nature of this, especially in the final reel. That’s no criticism in the genre of horror, which should go the extra mile to push the viewer’s buttons, yet especially in more mainstream works, tends to bail out at the last minute. It’s something of which this isn’t guilty; when it ends, it’s going further into the same bleak darkness, where the movie has been heading all along.
Dir: Daniel de la Vega Star: Julieta Cardinali, Rafael Ferro, Eleonora Wexler, Fiorela Duranda
a.k.a. White Coffin
“I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!“
Coming out of the micro-budget scene in New Mexico, this is a straightforward tale of vengeful “hell kittens”, to quote the official synopsis. Bella Meurta (Kate) is a hooker, who kills one of her clients after he gets rough with her. In revenge, her little sister is savagely beaten and left dead [note: not left for dead…] in the street. Bella gathers together her posse to take out the mobsters responsible: stripper Fageeda Cunt (Blackery), dominatrix Silky Gun (Coi), and jailbird turned home healthcare professional Harley Hellcat (Rebelle). [Look, I’m just reporting these character names, I didn’t create them. Particularly Fageeda’s] But as the saying goes, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Or perhaps more, in this case.
The aim is clear here, with West looking to create (yet another) throwback to the days of grindhouse and straight-to-rental action flicks. Which explains the faux artifacts like film scratches, I guess – though since it’s clearly shot on video, you kinda wonder why they bothered. Unfortunately, the execution falls a bit short as well. Cheap, I can easily forgive; it’s the occasional sloppiness here that’s annoying. For instance, when we see little sis lying dead in the road, her corpse is in pristine condition. Then, when Bella shows up in the next shot, the body is suddenly blood-spattered and badly bruised. Having a low-budget is no excuse for glaring continuity gaffes such as that.
Even at barely an hour long, there feels like there are significant chunks of padding, such as scenes of Fageeda and Silky at “work”, which bring plot development grinding to a complete halt. Particularly in the second half, the plot seems herky-jerky, with scenes in utterly different locations next to each other, lacking any explanation of how or why the characters went from Point A to Point B. There’s also a weird, almost complete lack of anyone over the age of about 30, which makes this seems like a revenge-based remake of Logan’s Run. And it appears most of the lead actresses are local burlesque dancers. The Venn diagram of the skills needed for those professions is not two superimposed circles, shall we say.
Yet I can’t say I hated this. We’ve been involved with enough low-budget film-making to be able to appreciate what’s involved, and much of the same vibe is present here. There are enough moments of quirky eccentricity, such as the Russian mobster confused by an ignition interlock device, which kept me adequately entertained through the film’s slacker moments. The fight scenes – something we always found a nightmare to try and make look even half way to good – didn’t entirely suck. You certainly will need a high degree of tolerance for ultra-cheap independent cinema to get through this, and I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners in that genre. Yet, I’ve seen worse [much worse, trust me on that], and despite the flaws, have to acknowledge the obvious effort involved.
Dir: Mikel-Jon West Star: Intoxi Kate, Joy Coy, General Blackery, Holly Rebelle
There seems to have been a sudden surge of gynocentric takes on Taken (as it were), with first Never Let Go, and now this. Both concern single mothers with a very particular set of skills, venturing into treacherous foreign territory after their daughters are abducted. In this case, the setting is Belize, where Nina Johnson (Calis) has gone to spend the summer with her boyfriend, volunteering at a local orphanage. When the promised daily contacts stop, single mom and Miami detective Kate (Holden) gets not much in the way of immediate help from the local authorities, and makes a bee-line to Belize so she can investigate on the ground. She’s helped, after some initial doubts, by friendly embassy employee Francisco Orizaga (Degruttola), who has particular skills of his own, being ex-special forces.
They discover Nina has been kidnapped by local cartel, La Muerte Roja (The Red Death), who have branched out from traditional cartel business like drugs, into black market organ transplants. A bar in Punta Dia, visited by Nina, has become ground zero for them, from where they kidnap tourists and turn them into spare parts for their rich clients. It’s up to Nina and her sidekick to track down the base of operations, and free Kate before she becomes a selection box of replacement organs. But that won’t be easy, given how deeply embedded LMR are in the town, and how feared they are by the residents.
There’s a huge plot-hole here, in that the last thing any cartel will ever do is target tourists, for nothing brings down federal heat faster. It’s been that way ever since the murder of Mark Kilroy in the seventies (by a satanist cult who had previously killed and dismembered more than a dozen locals with impunity) and remains the case now. Gangs would far rather sell visitors weed, than do anything which might interfere with a valuable and vital cash cow like tourism. But why let that get in the way of a slice of something which teeters between naked xenophobia and being really guilty about its naked xenophobia. Dammit, pick a side and commit to it, why can’t you.
That aside, this falls squarely into the realm of bland competence. Holden has the desperate mother thing down, yet isn’t as convincing when it comes to playing the tough-nosed detective. I sense that Francisco’s purpose in the script is to handle that heavy lifting, and the resulting dilution is perhaps why this doesn’t work as well as Never Let Go. It’s inoffensive enough: I watched the movie on a plane, and it beat browsing the in-flight magazine for a couple of hours. However, if you’re going for that Taken vibe, it isn’t enough to lift the premise, since the story was likely the least interesting thing there. You need someone who can deliver intensity somewhere in the same ballpark as Liam Neeson, and Holden comes up emphatically short in that department.
Dir: Steven R. Monroe Star: Gina Holden, Natasha Calis, Raffaello Degruttola, Matthew Ziff
Scar (Cole) has anger issues, which we see in the opening scene, where she stabs her boyfriend to death. Scarlett (Kimmel) makes her living by having affairs with married men, then blackmailing them. The two women team up after Scar rescues Scarlett, when one of her extortion targets is beating her up in an alley. The pair subsequently begin an odd relationship, peppered with bursts of brutal violence against men. The police investigation, led by Detective Mike (Wells) passes over them, but Mike begins a relationship with Scarlett, until he begins to suspect that her friend is involved in the string of killings.
There’s an off-kilter style here, in a variety of ways. Scar and Scarlett spend a lot of time sitting around the latter’s apartment watching news broadcasts. These mostly appear to be about the conflict in the Middle East. While unclear, I guess the film is making a comment about male violence on a global scale by juxtaposing it with more up close and personal violence by women? Robb’s visual approach, in his directorial debut, is also a bit different, shall we say. He often seems content to park the camera in a fixed position,. and let events unfold in front of it (or, in certain cases, somewhat in front of it) as they may. He’s a big fan of about half a second of black screen between scenes too, and the use of deliberately inappropriate classical music. Not sure how effective any of this is; for instance, the static shots give a distancing feel, almost as if you were watching on CCTV. Hey, at least it’s making an effort.
That last sentence could be an accurate summary of the film as a whole. It’s clearly trying, and given the limited resources, it isn’t a disaster. But neither was this very successful at holding my interest for the entire duration. There isn’t much in the way of a character arc for either Scar or Scarlett. Right from the start, Scar is the obviously more psychotic one, and Scarlett is better able to conceal and control her impulses. That’s how it is for the rest of the film, although there was a while where I thought we were going down the Fight Club route, with Scar being a manifestation of Scarlett’s darker side.
On the positive side, the two leads deliver decent performances, and the violence – mostly in the form of repeated stabbings with the traditional weapon of movie psychos, the carving knife – is unflinching and credibly brutal. Part of the problem is, we’re not really given much reason to empathize with Scar or Scarlett. While there’s an implied suggestion Scar’s boyfriend is abusive, there’s nothing to suggest the punishment she unilaterally imposes is anything close to fitting the crime. Meanwhile, Scarlett is a manipulator, also depicted without much in the way of redeeming features. The results are watchable enough, yet left me feeling little or no impact, emotionally or intellectually.
Dir: Sean K. Robb Star: Danielle Cole, Neale Kimmel, Matt Wells, Eric Regimbald
A modern-day update of The Three Little Pigs, this works better than you might think. The wolf is “Huff” (O’Connell), a really warped individual whose interests appear to be religion, drugs and molesting his three step-daughters. Bit of an odd combination. Their mother, Lorelei (Elina Madison), is a largely absent stripper, who seems not to care too much that her boyfriend’s attention have now turned from her oldest daughter, Brixi (Bollinger), to the youngest one, Shay (Stefanko). But when Huff prepares his big score, using cash “borrowed” from his mistress’s ex-husband (or something like that – the relationships here are so complicated, you need a chart to keep track), Lorelei sees her opportunity, sending the three girls away with the money. That leaves Huff in serious trouble, and he’s soon after them, intent on retrieving the cash. Huff is indeed going to puff… on his asthma inhaler.
Yeah, that’s a bit of an over-reach, and you feel it might have worked better, had the makers not apparently felt obligated to stick so close to their source. Contrast, say, Freeway, which was a similarly modern version of a fairly tale, specifically Little Red Riding Hood – but had no qualms about discarding elements that didn’t fit, and was all the better for it. Here, even the daughters’ names are clunkily shoehorned in to the narrative; as well as Brixi and Shay, there’s Styx. Okay, I think we get the concept: even for a stripper mom, those are a bit much. Fortunately, when it’s not being incredibly contrived, this is a decent enough slab of trashy fun, located right at the bottom of the social pecking order – although everyone has far better teeth, and are generally much more attractive than you’d expect. This is a compromise I’m happy to live with, since it is clearly not intended to be Winter’s Bone.
O’Connell was The Batchelor in the show’s seventh series, in 2005, so guess it’s a bit of a change in pace and content here. He certainly makes for an ultra-evil villain, right from the get-go when he’s telling his (at that point, extremely young) daughters a particularly sordid tale from the Bible. Indeed, it’s kinda remarkable that the sisters have managed to survive with any fragment of their morality intact. Yet, on more than one occasion, Brixi is prepared to imperil herself to protect her siblings – a cooler head might have considered saner options. If you know the fairy-tale, you’ll already know how things progress, and the story follows its inspiration closely, up to the point where Huff and Brixi face off. It’s a finale that really doesn’t deserve the coda it receives, which seems to render much of what has gone before pointless, or close to. But as a tacky grab-bag of low-life scumminess, where an unpleasant death is never far away, it appears more than happy to wallow in the mud along with its “little pigs”. It does so adequately enough to be a guilty pleasure as a result.
Dir: Paul Morrell Star: Marie Bollinger, Charlie O’Connell, Jenna Stone, Elly Stefanko
a.k.a. Big Bad Wolf
This final installment (the author confirms that fact in her Acknowledgments) of the series is set in May 1921, a few months after the previous one. The book’s opening finds Jade in Zanzibar, a new setting for her, which takes her out of the Nairobi area and away from her friends there. One reviewer complained about their absence, but as a compensation, we get to not only spend some more time with Jade’s formidable Spanish-born mother, Inez, but to meet Jade’s dad as well. Her parents have come to Africa for her impending nuptials, and she and Inez plan to enjoy a relaxing sight-seeing trip while Richard del Cameron gets acquainted with his new son-in-law on a planned safari.
Since she didn’t expect to need it, Jade didn’t bring along her trusty Winchester. But Simba Jike’s reputation has preceded her, and her propensity to land in the middle of dangerous skullduggery is as much in evidence here as ever. (Luckily, she did bring her knife….) She and Inez soon encounter a sudden mysterious death, an appeal for help, and a wealthy Arab household rife with secrets. And meanwhile, back in Mombasa, their menfolk stumble across an apparent slave-trading operation –and they’re not the sort of guys who’d let that sort of thing go on without getting involved.
This is the only novel in the series to be self-published; Arruda evidently wrote it without the aid of her usual proofreading and editorial services. There was also a five-year gap between it and the preceding novel, during which she apparently had the distraction of a pregnancy, childbirth, and care for a newborn daughter, to whom the book is dedicated. (From internal evidences, I’m guessing that the early chapters may have been written before the pregnancy, and the middle and later ones after the baby had become a toddler.) These factors show in a number of typos (though none of them are bad enough to keep the reader from understanding the author’s intention), and in some discontinuity between plot elements near the beginning and the developing story, which cost the book a star.
Otherwise, the quality is very similar to the other series installments. The mystery was more deeply concealed, with several developments that genuinely surprised me. As always, the author thoroughly researched her setting(s). An element of the possibly supernatural has typically been a feature of these novels, and that’s particularly strong here, with the background of the witchcraft guild of Zanzibar’s neighboring island, Pemba, and their rites of human sacrifice. Jade’s (and Arruda’s) concern for human rights in the face of injustice is also a strong note in the book, in the face of the persistent practice of slavery, which was nominally outlawed on Zanzibar in 1897, but still went on in practice even on into the 1920s. (And it continues to flourish today in the countries of the Arabian peninsula that are still governed by Sharia law, which regulates slavery but doesn’t forbid it.)
Barb and I read this book together, as we have the whole series, and we’re both sorry to see the series end! Jade has been one of our favorite heroines, and its been a privilege to get to know her.
Author: Suzanne Arruda Publisher: Self-published, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.
A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.
Disease has wiped out most of civilization, and left those who have survived, scrambling to cope. Better equipped than most are sisters Jenny (Rothe), Sarah (Winters) and silent little Danika (Jones). For their father was a doomsday prepper, who created a “bug out” cabin in the desert, stocked with all the necessities to survive. However, neither he nor their mother are around any longer: the former died during the crisis, and the latter went out to seek help and never returned. So it’s all down to the sisters, who have been reminded about the golden rule, time and again, by their Dad: do not let anyone in, under any circumstances.
This rule is tested beyond its breaking point when Ryan (Nardelli) shows up. He seems to have a bond with Danika; the other two siblings are unable to agree on how to proceed. In the end, older sister Jenny over-rules the far more suspicious Sarah, and Ryan joins their little community. But as Jenny and Ryan start to form a relationship, seeds are being sown to destroy the peaceful and remote life the family have been fortunate enough to enjoy. And that’s not necessarily just the result of Ryan’s hidden agenda, either. Because the psychological pressures of living on the edge of survival will eventually take their toll on even the hardiest of personalities.
Although the bloody conclusion which results is somewhat satisfying, you have to sit through an enormous amount of “jaw-jaw” before you can get to the “war-war”. For the first hour-plus, the biggest threat in this apocalypse appears to be dying of boredom. This is likely a side-effect of the limited budget, perhaps in conjunction with the makers’ apparent interest in making this a relationship drama, rather than the action-packed survival story promised by the sleeve and trailer. The pacing is particularly awful: the question of whether Ryan is the innocent he seems, seems to be answered far too early. Once that happens, you’re left with very little in the way of development, the film doing the cinematic equivalent of endlessly circling the mall, looking for a really good parking spot.
I was reminded, significantly, of The Last Survivors, which takes a similar setting and teenage lead character, but does significantly better in the pacing department – although is still short of perfect. The main difference is that the payoff there is worth the wait, and it doesn’t try to make up for a leaden first half with a sudden late flurry of action. The flaws in that department here are a shame, since the performances here are not the problem, particularly Jones as the youngest, entirely mute sister. She has extraordinarily expressive eyes, and gets to use them to excellent effect in a number of scenes. She is probably the best mute post-apocalyptic child – a particularly niche character genre, I appreciate – since the Feral Kid in Mad Max 2.
Dir: Roxy Shih Star: Jessica Rothe, Anne Winters, Chloe Beth Jones, Michael Nardelli
The first series was the story of Teresa Mendoza’s fall and rise. From a comfortable life in Mexico, she dropped all the way across the border, to a drug mule at the very bottom of the organization belonging to Camila Vargas (Falcon), before beginning her climb up that cartel’s ladder. The series ended with her becoming Camila’s trusted lieutenant, as her cartel fought for its independence from estranged husband, Don Epifanio. In the second season, the landscape shifts, radically. Indeed, by the end, virtually everything you knew – or thought you knew – has been shaken up. In particular, the relationship between Camila and Teresa falls apart, as Teresa looks to assert her independence. Initially, Camila is very much on the back foot, having been cut off from both her supplies and her distribution network, and has to rebuild both.
This task requires quite some effort on the part of both her and Teresa, and brings them into contact with some strange characters. On the distribution side, is an eccentric smuggler who calls himself “King George.” He does have a tough streak, but is a quirky character who feels more like a leftover hippie, more amusing than a real threat. That can not be said of Bolivian drug-lord El Santo (played by Steven Bauer, whom my wife says to remind you is Cuban!). He’s part shaman, part Jim Jones, leading his devoted cult of followers through a psycho-chemical process that leaves them… changed. And before he agrees to deal with Camila, he insists Teresa goes through that process. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. The episodes set in Bolivia were definitely eye-opening (an interesting contrast to the Bolivian Fighting Cholitas!), and Santo’s police associate, La Capitana, was almost as bad-ass as Teresa.
But they contributed to what I found was the main problem this season: a lack of focus. The plot seemed to be getting pulled in too many directions: a strength of the first season was it felt unequivocally like Teresa’s story. That didn’t feel the case here. While some of those elements were solid enough – Camila remains a fascinating character, worthy of her own show – I could probably have done, say, without the adventures of her and Epifanio’s bratty teenage daughter. It took until the final episode for that to become relevant; until then, it was more a chore than a pleasure. Similarly, the love triangle between Teresa, colleague-at-arms James (Gadiot) and her former, not-so-dead boyfriend, Guero, was all too obvious.
However, it’s still relentlessly gritty, and the way the relationships between the characters changed over time was very well-plotted. It’s done gradually, so that you don’t realize how former allies have become mortal enemies, until the betrayal occurs. Here, the pivotal moment was Teresa discovering papers proving Camila had set her up, dead in the firing line of a DEA investigation. This finally proved to Teresa what we had suspected all along: that Camila was simply using her, as and when necessary or beneficial, and was undeserving of the loyalty which Teresa had shown here.
The final episode confirmed the battle lines have been redrawn, and sets the stage for series three (the show’s renewal was already announced, last month). To quote the program’s showrunner, Natalie Chaidez, this season “was about Teresa learning what it takes to run a drug cartel from Camila Vargas… Camila taught her some good things, and she taught her some bad things. Now, Teresa has reached the end of the season ready, armed with all of the lessons Camila has taught her.” Mission accomplished, and with the pair now on opposing sides – and with Camila having very good reason to hate Teresa – I’m already anticipating the next series.
Star: Alice Braga, Veronica Falcon, Peter Gadiot, Joaquim de Almeida
Professional wrestling is perhaps more international than you’d expect. While traditional territories – USA, Japan, Mexico and the UK – still remain the powerhouses, there is hardly a country in the world without its own local pro federation. But even I had not heard of Ecuador’s cholita luchadoras.Cholita is a term used for the native women there, usually found at the bottom of the social pyramid, both in terms of wealth and education. So the term translates as the “fighting cholitas“, who use pro wrestling as a way out of poverty, and to help them at least approach the average wage there, which is around $270 per month.
While initially intended purely for local consumption, it has achieved renown, both local and internationally, and become a tourist attraction. Local company “Andean Secrets” – run by one of the cholitas – runs excursions that pick visitors up at their hotel and take them to one of their shows at the Multifunctional Centre in El Alto. Tourists have to pay five times the cost for locals, but the price does get them ringside seats. In style, it’s closest to Mexican lucha libre, with the good girls (technicos) going up against the rudos, who cheat. abuse the audience and collude with a corrupt referee to try and achieve victory. You can generally tell who’s who from the names they choose. There’s an almost standard format to these: Chela la Maldita, Sonia La Simpática, Juanita La Cariñosa (Affectionate), Rosita La Rompecorazones (Heartbreaker) or Silvina La Poderosa (Powerful).
An exception is the matriarch of the cholitas, known as Carmen Rosa. She was part of the original group of cholitas and one of the three who made it through the training program. She said, “For me, wrestling is my life; it is in my heart. It makes it hard for me to choose between wrestling and my family. They have asked me to stop fighting and sometimes I think about quitting, but I can’t. My heart beats fast at the mere mention of wrestling, or when I go to see a show, not to mention when I am about to enter the ring. There is nothing I love more than wrestling.” But even after a decade, she’s not fully professional: her day job is running her family’s local snack-bar.
That’s par for the course – as another example, Benita La Intocable (the Untouchable, one of the most high-flying of the cholitas) was training to be a nurse. Because the pay received is still peanuts by Western standards – typically no more than thirty dollars for their night’s work – but it’s an improvement on the very limited opportunities available to cholitas, typically as maid or other menial work. For until recently, the indigenous men and women had suffered a long history of discrimination, denied education, health care and public presence. The election in 2006 of the first Bolivian President from their group, Evo Morales, has helped address things, but there’s a reason the cholitas fight in El Alto, not the more prosperous La Paz.
They first entered the ring around the start of the millennium, the idea of local promoter Juan Mamani. Initially intended purely as a gimmick during a period of audience decline – he also considered using midgets – it took off in an unexpected way, with over fifty women showing up for that first open try-out. But after years under Mamani’s thumb, in which the women took the risks, and the associated damage, while his promotion, Titanes del Ring (Titans of the Ring) took the profits, there was a schism. Carmen and others among his top wrestlers left in 2011, starting up their own independent association, Diosas del Ring (Goddesses of the Ring), to gain the fruits of their own efforts. [Mamani allegedly then hired another woman, to play what I guess was Carmen Rosa v2.0!]
It was initially a struggle, with the women struggling to find even a place to train, and some of the defectors subsequently returning to Mamani – a man whom National Geographiconce described as “a tall, angular man whom it would be kind to call unfriendly”. But Carmen and her colleagues persisted, and now they’ll get close to a thousand people attending their weekly events. She has become a celebrity, and not just in El Alto or even Bolivia. Carmen has traveled widely as a result, including trip to America and Peru, as well as being brought to London for 2015’s ‘Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre’ festival at York Hall.
The most immediate difference any wrestling fan will notice, is the costumes. While in America, wrestlers typically wear a limited amount of tight-fitting clothing, intended not to interfere with their moves, the cholitas come to fight in the traditional native costumes, consisting of multiple layered skirts (typically five or six), and little bowler hats which perch on top of their long, braided hair. [Bonus fact: the angle of the hat indicates marital status] It seems implausible they would be able to do anything requiring significant movement, but you’d be surprised. Also worth noting: the women need particular endurance, due to the altitude. Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, is the highest in the world, and the nearby low-income suburb of El Alto, home of the cholitas, is more elevated still, at over 13,500 feet above sea-level. Simply breathing is hard work, that far up.
The matches are not limited to women vs. women, with the cholitas taking on their male counterparts, as dictated by the storyline. It’s a one of a kind breed of professional wrestling, and a take which goes beyond the first impression of the unique style. For it is sports entertainment, not just based on athletic talent combined with the struggle of “good against evil,” but a version which offers social and political commentary too. Below, you’ll find a playlist of Youtube videos, including both documentaries and other clips, which give a bit more insight into the world of the fighting cholitas.
“Sometimes my daughters ask why I insist on doing this. It’s dangerous; we have many injuries, and my daughters complain that wrestling does not bring any money into the household. But I need to improve every day. Not for myself, for Veraluz, but for the triumph of Yolanda, an artist who owes herself to her public.” — Yolanda La Amorosa