Women Fight In and Outside the Ring

in 23rd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

by Jan Storø

Luchadoras (2021) invites us to a corner of the world that many of us don’t know much about. It gives us an insight into what it means to fight for one’s existence – both literary and in a transferred meaning.

Luchadoras is a powerful statement of how some women living at the Ciudad Juarez on Mexico’s border to the USA deal with their lives. They are single mothers – and female fighters. The wrestlers, Lady Candy, Baby Star, Little Star and Mini Sirenita, generously invite us into their lives – telling us about how they combine fighting, a regular job, and motherhood.

Directors Paola Calvo and Patrick Jassim have a warm and wise hand on the camera and the editing. The cinematography is solid, with a special quality in the use of lightning. We are invited to a variety of environments and the images captured seem to rely on natural lighting. Calvo and Jassim also use backlighting to build up the film’s atmosphere. This film is a humanistic project. The directors present their protagonists in a way that lets them keep their dignity, even if they have chosen a way of life that is unusual and maybe even in the eyes of some spectators; not fitting for a mother. The wrestlers in Luchadoras are poor, and they have chosen an unusual way to live, but we are never in doubt of their humanity.

In the first few minutes of the film, we are told that Ciudad Juarez is the most dangerous city in the world. It is situated just on the border. On the other side of the border lies the American city, El Paso. These two cities are so close that they could be the same city – if they were not divided by the national border between Mexico and the USA and the river Rio Grande.

Many of the city’s inhabitants are striving for a better future. This goal, however, is not easy in such a violent environment, where violence is targeted towards women to a large degree. This film captures some of these stories. The brutality of the Juarez society can be seen on several levels. Women are kidnapped, forced into prostitution, raped and killed. But also, on a societal level, life is hard here: The drug cartels are a powerful force, and factory owners’ hunger for profitable businesses contributes to defining a tough and unsafe society, especially for women.

During breaks between training sessions, conversations among the female fighters explore the condition of women in this environment, especially the violence they face. We are given a deepfelt insight into the background of these fighters. Many work at factories with predominantly female workforces. Subject to low wages and dangerous work conditions, where many female workers are subject to violence, the women work to create products intended for the US market. One group of men, in particular, stand out as the main perpetrators of violence towards the female factory workers; the male bus drivers who drive them to and from their shifts. The bus ride may take two hours, and many times in the middle of the night. We learn that this has gone on for generations.

We also learn about the political fight for women’s rights and safety in Ciudad Juarez. But these parts of the film never take over. The dominant story of Luchadoras is the personal stories of the “luchadoras” – of the female fighters. That said, it feels important and in place that politics is focused as well. Calvo and Jassim have chosen to balance the political and the personal in a subtle totality. This is perhaps the most important asset of this film.

Jan Storø
Edited by Justine Smith