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Review: The Boy and the Suit of Lights


- Inma de Reyes offers up a quietly compelling documentary of a young bullfighter-in-training over the course of five years

Review: The Boy and the Suit of Lights

Two young boys play “house” with figurines of Teletubbies and bulls, their game a form of cat and mouse between the plastic statuettes. Later, they pick up their backpacks, seemingly to go to school. But instead, they take their bags to an unlikely educational institution: the bullfighting ring. These opening moments set the stage exceptionally for the documentary tale that Spanish-born, Scottish-based director Inma de Reyes world-premiered in the International First Feature Competition of this year's Sheffield Doc/Fest: her debut feature, The Boy and the Suit of Lights [+see also:
film profile
, which also won the Grand Jury Award in said competitive section (see the news).

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The young boys are Borja Miranda and his younger brother, Erik, who live in the coastal Valencian city of Castellón. Their primary familial figures are their mother, Raquel Miranda, and their grandfather, Matias Miranda, the latter of whom sees bullfighting as the way to pull the family up to a higher socioeconomic standing. “We’ll see if you manage to take this family out of misery,” he says to Borja, less a threat and more of a plea.

And so, with brows deeply furrowed in concentration, Borja learns the art of gracefully manipulating the iconic red muleta to guide the bulls, just as much of an art as it is a sport of agility and speed. He quickly moves from pre-pubescent boy to teen, his voice sinking low and his peach fuzz turning to a moustachioed shadow. Scenes of the bullfighting trainees at practice are accompanied by classical guitar, with gently fitting music by composers Nascuy Linares and Jonathan Fyfe. We see that Borja is sucked into his family's tethered-together dreams of bullfighting and bootstrapping: if he weren't able to become a torero, he would do whatever work is necessary to help his family, he tells Erik.

In stark contrast, we also witness the brothers playing at the beach, carving out moats and crafting sandcastles: after all, they're still kids. The sport and spectacle of bullfighting thus appears to be a field of endless possibilities for the Mirandas, a dream cast upon the young Borja at all costs, with Erik as his sidekick. De Reyes never truly lets us into the interiority of the adolescent, but it’s easy to see how the battle of dominance between promised pride and impossible ambition rages on in his head. As the film goes on, Borja’s life is composed of fewer and fewer scenes of bullfighting, and more and more sequences of him with his friends, undertaking other pastimes and helping out at the family orchard.

The film brushes past, but never actively grapples with, the politically polarising show of bullfighting (in one scene, after a bull is killed, protestors charge the ring wearing T-shirts adorned with “No a la violencia”). Instead, The Boy and the Suit of Lights is more a story of the personal, where viewers are uniquely witnesses to this heritage from the perspective of intergenerational opportunity and burden. De Reyes takes us on a journey without romanticising the blunt truths of bullfighting as a fraught tradition – in more ways than one.

The Boy and the Suit of Lights is a UK production by Glasgow-based Aconite Productions Ltd. Its world sales are being managed by Syndicado Film Sales.

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