Sunday, October 11, 2009


Original Title: La Leyenda de Una Máscara (The Legend of a Mask)
Year: 1991
Director: José Buil
Writer: José Buil
Genre: Crime/Drama/Lucha

A sports journalist is assigned to discover the truth behind the mask of "El Angel Enmascarado" (The Masked Angel), a very popular and recently deceased wrestler.

OK, that poster or DVD cover or whatever it is has nothing to do with this movie despite the character's name. What this movie is is a cool little drama that is both an homage to film-noir and the lucha film genre.

La Leyenda de Una Mascara not fit perfectly with the other films I am reviewing this month, but I thought it has some very interesting themes presented and showed a side to the whole Santo-mystique that just casual film goers might not even consider.

I am fairly sure El Angel is supposed to represent the life of the famous El Santo, down to images of his funeral that seemed similar to El Santo's funeral in the 1908s. El Santo was buried in his mask following a funeral procession in Mexico City that lasted for hours. It was like a day of mourning.

While Santo would most likely remove his mask at home in his personal life, he protected his identity in public until close to his death when he surprisingly unmasked on a talk show. El Angel in the film, took this idea and made it all-encompassing. El Angel also has an elaborate and public funeral with luchador pall bearers and citizens mourning his loss. But this character is taken much farther in that his identity is completely transformed into that of El Angel... complete with state-issued identification.

He has become the closest thing to a superhero that we know outside of books and screen.

But this masked superhero is still human. We are shown through flashback not only his "creation" but also his walking the line between being that superhero and a normal man with normal man flaws; infidelity, pride, etc. This man is no saint by any means. And we are shown his struggle in a way with identity, amplified from you or I because his face is always hidden. Eventually his closest friends have trouble knowing him fully.

Even his baby dons a mask in the hospital! This is hyperbole I think of the tradition in lucha libre for fathers to pass their mask and in a sense their identity to their sons who carry on the name even after the original is gone.

"I already told you, I always wear the mask. The mask is an act of defiance in my life."

The plot of the film mainly revolves around another flawed man, Olmo Robles (Damián Alcázar), an alcoholic reporter/writer working at a shitty newspaper, who is pressed by his boss to come up with a better story than simply reporting the death of El Angel. He wants to know who El Angel really was. If they uncover El Angel's identity, it would be huge for their tabloid.

Olmo is lazy and always inebriated, but as the story progresses, we learn that he, as so many Mexican citizens, held El Angel in a special place in their hearts. He digs deeper and deeper into El Angel's life by speaking with the people he was closest to, and we see him becoming more and more obsessed really with who El Angel was.

He learns about an El Angel double that was created by Juan J. Luna (Héctor Ortega) after the original El Angel had creative differences with him regarding the direction of his movies. Juan J. Luna, a comic book artist and eventually writer for the El Angel films, seems to be a characterization of the real life Jose Cruz, who was responsible in the 1950s for taking El Santo from the wrestling ring to the pages of comic books, then to film.

The scene of the doppelganger's creation is a lot of fun and a throwback to Frankenstein. It's obviously not meant to be taken realistically and is one of the throwbacks to the early monster/lucha films.

Having two El Angels not only complicates the identity issues with the character, but also is another nice throwback to lucha films and lucha libre in general as there are often battles against friends or even evil versions of oneself in an attempt to remove one another's masks. This theme was touched on in El Enmascarado de Plata as well as El Medico battled someone dressed as him also.

With this and other scenes, the film poses another interesting question about the mask in that anyone can wear one. Does this mean anyone can be El Angel? Where does the human underneath stop and the hero begin?

Ultimately we get a noir-like mystery with this film that is at the same time an homage and entertaining on it's own. Buil's writing and direction is dark and moody, with a touch of campy. For someone experienced with the lucha genre, you really will appreciate how this story unfolds. It feels original and like a remake at the same time. It looks nice despite being full frame, but maybe this tighter ratio was a throw back to movies of old as well. It's a vintage story that takes place in current time.

I'm not entirely sure this is a fantastic film because I am coming at it from a biased place. Coming in cold with no reference point, someone may not enjoy this like I did. Even the ending, a peculiar cliffhanger, is an homage but could be frustrating for someone who does not know better.

It's not a perfect film, some of the character's actions do seem a bit questionable at times, but again I think this can be forgiven seeing as what it was trying to do.

I really liked La Leyenda de Una Mascara. It was dark, well-shot, funny at times, and a nice, reverent if not exaggerated (just like the films!) tribute to the lucha libre lifestyle and film genre.

High recommendation if you know your lucha. Otherwise, you may want to buff up a little to appreciate it more.

Score: 7.75 / 10

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