May 5, 2009
52 Sundays, 1966
On the surface, a film about bullfighting would seem an unlikely source of resistance. But Llorenç Soler's 52 Sundays is far from a flamboyant celebration of Franco-friendly displays of skill and aggression. Filmed from the perspective of aspiring toreros, often poor, undereducated teenagers from the country who get together on Sundays in makeshift schools on the outskirts of the city to train as bullfighters, 52 Sundays is instead a sublime and haunting portrait of marginalization. For Felipe, bullfighting offers a way to out of hazardous metalworking, provide respite for his parents, and an opportunity to escape the poverty of the slums. Rafael expresses youthful dreams of social mobility, flashy convertibles, and being able to afford the more high-end prostitutes in El Paralelo (along with altruistic whims of charity). Juan Manuel hopes to return to his village and embellish the town's modest statues of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, as well as build a ranch that will provide well-paying jobs for the community. Juxtaposing shots of the wide-eyed students in training with an actual bullfight, Soler implicitly parallels the fractured, parallel images of young bodies with the formidable presence of the bull in the ring. In a sense, their fates, too, are as intertwined by resilience and determination as it is by the inevitability of defeat - reflected, not as one clean, fatal stab, but after a prolonged struggle of debilitating strikes that lead to broken, exhausted surrender - death coming, not in the heat of battle, but in a crumpled coup de grâce, dragged from the fleeting glory of the arena back into the shadows of obscurity.