Review: Civil War – Cineuropa

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

Italian intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini once said that ‘football is the last sacred ritual of our time’, and one of the interviewees in Eva Longoria Bastonthe documentary Civil war [+see also:
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explains that “boxing is an opera for Latinos”. They are both right. What Mediterraneans and Latinos certainly share is a strong passion for their own national sports, which goes beyond mere enthusiasm and touches on deep-rooted customs and traditions.

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The feature film, on view in this year’s Premieres section Sundance Film Festivaldelves into the historic rivalry between two boxing champions, namely the young and charismatic “golden boy” with a “killer smile” Oscar De La Hoya – a second-generation immigrant from East Los Angeles – and an unruly legend of Mexican descent Julio Cesar Chavez. More than two-thirds of the film chronicles how the two champions rose to fame, their first fighting experiences dating back to their early childhood, and how they both realized that boxing should be an essential part of their lives.

In particular, Longoria Bastón decides to highlight two main aspects. The first covers the private lives of the two athletes and explains how the difficult times they went through transformed them as individuals and affected their professional careers. The second zooms in on the chaotic world around them – their brooding fanbases (particularly crucial in the biography of De La Hoya, who enjoyed fame and great appreciation, but also the extreme hostility of his own people), their troubled relationships (Chávez is quick to confess his friendship with several local drug cartel members) and how they gradually transformed into “mainstream idols” whose popularity went far beyond the Mexican and Mexican-American communities. The narrative climax is, unsurprisingly, represented by the so-called “Ultimate Glory” match of June 7, 1996, when the two sportsmen clashed at Paradise’s Caesars Palace.

Aesthetically speaking, the documentary does not stand out and adopts a television approach, alternating several “talking heads”, photographs and archive images. One might wonder if this work would be better suited to the small screen than the big one. With the exception of a few snippets from their historic battles, there’s little drama 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 pundits and journalists who have witnessed, to varying degrees, the careers of the two champions. The narration is quite balanced, even if the end on the vicissitudes of the two sportsmen after 1996 may seem a little too hasty. Nevertheless, the play is generally engaging, as it tells the story of a strange “civil war” that deserves to be discovered. It prompts us to ask more questions about our cultural identity, masculinity, greed, the cyclical rise and fall of boxing champions, and sport as a contemporary cultural phenomenon.

Civil war is a UK production directed by DAZN and UnbeliEVAble Entertainment. DAZN is also in charge of its international sales.

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