La Guerra Civil
(UK, 102 min.)
Dir. Eva Longoria Bastón
Programme: Premieres (World Premiere)
Boxing often makes for stellar cinematic fun, especially in non-fiction. There’s something about the dynamic of two warriors in a ring, the confrontation between individuals made both manifest and overt. However, Eva Longoria Bastón’s La Guerra Civil speaks to some famous pugilistic matches while its scope and its effectiveness go well beyond the boundaries of the squared circle.
Julio César Chávez was an iconic Mexican boxer. Born in 1962, he was raised in the Sonora region as one of ten children. His story of the impoverished kid who rose up to make millions fighting for his every success made him a folk hero. With a near-perfect record taking on all comers, he held numerous titles over his quarter-century career. To this day, he is considered one of the greatest me who ever fought.
Oscar De La Hoya was born in 1973 in East Los Angeles as a first generation American to Mexican parents. Raised in a Spanish-speaking household, he was encouraged by his father, a former professional fighter and son of a former fighter, to continue the family practice of punching. From a young age, De La Hoya saw great success, eventually leading to Olympic gold in Barcelona where he was admonished for raising both an American Flag and a Mexican one to speak to his dual heritage. Turning pro, he had his eyes set on a match with his childhood idol, the pride of Mexico, hoping to unseat the great Chávez while earning the respect of the country of his parents’ birth.
The resulting match in June 1996 gives La Guerra Civil its central metaphor. The Chicano from L.A. wasn’t “Mexican enough” in contrast to the burly streetfighter that Chávez appeared to be. Almost impossibly beautiful at that time, the contrast between the tanned Californian Adonis and the hardheaded brawler divided the community like few sporting events on U.S. soil. Longoria Bastón takes this wider societal and historical context and shows why a relatively mediocre match that was halted due to a cut above the eye had ramifications for generations. It defined sporting allegiance, as well as fundamental questions of personal and national identity.
With probing interviews and terrific archive footage, the story of these two individuals is mirrored in many ways. While some of the darker aspects of each character is underplayed, especially the post-fight challenges that De La Hoya had that mimicked some of the downfalls of his opponent, there’s still enough colour and context exciting audiences regardless of their interest in the sport.
Far more than the story of two people battling it out for millions, the film recognizes how these individuals demonstrate a particular time and place for people of Mexican heritage. What it means to be American, or even what it means to be Mexican, resonates in a competition that took place in the parking lot of a Vegas casino. La Guerra Civil looks beyond the pomp and spectacle to find the deeper elements that made this so eventful.
The end is a thrilling sports film with a personal and political bent. It effectively illustrates the comparisons between the combatants, but also the way that their own fights mirrored those within the community. It’s a deeply intelligent probing of all aspects of the bout, and firmly illustrates a filmmaker at ease with both the drama of the duel and the profoundness of the circumstance.
La Guerra Civil is a wonderfully thrilling rarity. This smart sports doc delivers both visceral fun while engaging viewers on levels both intellectual and psychological. It’s a perfect way to remember the impact of those fights and the resonance that these events continue to have decades—both for the fighters and for those who experienced their battle.