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SUNDANCE 2022 Premieres

Review: La Guerra Civil

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- Eva Longoria Bastón's documentary tells the story of boxing champions Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya's historic rivalry, but through a rather traditional film language

Review: La Guerra Civil

Italian intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini once said that “football is the latest sacred ritual of our time,” and one of the interviewees in Eva Longoria Bastón's documentary La Guerra Civil [+see also:
trailer
film profile
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explains that “boxing is opera to Latinos.” They are both right. What Mediterraneans and Latinos certainly share is a strong passion for their own national sports, which goes beyond simple enthusiasm and touches deeply rooted customs and traditions.

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The feature, playing in the Premieres section of this year's Sundance Film Festival, delves into the historic rivalry between two boxing champions, namely young, charismatic 'golden boy' with a ‘killer smile’ Oscar De La Hoya – a second generation immigrant from East Los Angeles – and Mexican-born, unruly legend Julio César Chávez. Over two thirds of the film focuses on telling how the two champions rose to fame, their first experiences with fighting dating back to their early childhood, and how they both realised that boxing had to be an essential part of their existence.

In particular, Longoria Bastón decides to shed light on two main aspects. The first covers the two athletes’ private lives and clarifies how the moments of hardship they went through transformed them as individuals and affected their professional careers. The second zooms in on the chaotic world around them – their moody fanbases (particularly crucial in De La Hoya's biography, who experienced glory and great appreciation, but also extreme hostility from his own people), their murky connections (Chávez doesn’t hesitate to admit his friendship with several members of the local drug cartels) and how they both gradually transformed themselves into "mainstream idols" whose popularity went far beyond Mexican and Mexican-American communities. The narrative climax is, unsurprisingly, represented by the so-called "Ultimate Glory" match on 7 June 1996, when the two sportsmen fought against each other at Paradise's Caesars Palace.

Aesthetically speaking, the documentary certainly doesn’t stand out from the crowd and adopts a TV-like approach, alternating a number of "talking heads," photographs and archive footage. One might question whether this work would fit the small screen better than the big one. Except for a few excerpts taken from their historical fights, there's little spectacularity or intimacy that would particularly benefit from a theatrical screening.

Throughout, De La Hoya and Chávez have their say, along with some of their relatives as well as experts and journalists who have witnessed, to different extents, both champions' careers. The narration is altogether balanced, even though the ending about the two sportsmen's post-1996 vicissitudes may feel a bit too rushed. Nonetheless, the piece is generally engaging, as it tells the story of a bizarre "civil war" worth discovering. It prompts us to ask more questions about one's cultural identity, masculinity, greed, the cyclic rise and fall of boxing champions, and sports as contemporary cultural phenomena.

La Guerra Civil is a British production staged by DAZN and UnbeliEVAble Entertainment. DAZN is also in charge of its international sales.

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