Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey's absorbing documentary The Matador doesn't avoid airing the protests against bullfighting that have increased in recent years. But the filmmakers never take sides, concentrating instead on their captivating subject, David Fandila, a bullfighter from Granada, who, five years ago, at the age of 21, set out to become only the 13th matador in history to complete 100 corridas in a single season.
Even if one is not a bullfighting aficionado, it is easy to get caught up in his quest. Fandila is as graceful and stylish as a dancer and rarely falters; he does seem to fulfill one observer's remark that the bullfighter is "a hero who confronts death for all of us."
When he arrives at a ring, David blots out protesters chanting, "Torture is not art nor culture." The bull's fate might be cruel, but surely Fandila is an artist and bullfighting has been deeply embedded in Spanish and Mediterranean cultures for centuries.
The filmmakers don't probe why this came to be and what it signifies, and their film would have been stronger had they done so. Still, they do capture the paradox of beauty and cruelty that charges their entire film. "The Matador" is rightly exciting -- and unsettling. --Kevin Thomas, The Los Angeles Times
Once he steps into the ring, this Spanish Clark Kent transforms into El Fandi, a preening, balls-out bullfighter! --Elena Oumano, The Village Voice