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Protesters occasionally crop up during this documentary on Spanish bullfighting, hoisting picket signs reading, “Torture is neither art nor culture.‚” David Fandila, the star bullfighter at the center the film, doesn’t have an especially convincing response to those critics—he equates what he does to cooking Thanksgiving turkeys, though turkeys aren’t slowly bled to death in public for the entertainment of thousands of cheering fans. While The Matador‘s images of bulls dragged from dusty arenas after getting run through with swords and skewers are hard to watch, Fandila, aka El Fandi, is a compelling enough subject to make you question your gut reactions—he’s as athletic, charismatic, and driven as a star quarterback. The film follows Fandila from 2003 to 2005, as he strives to become one of the few matadors to kill 100 bulls in a season, and filmmakers Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey have such a great story on their hands they don’t have to editorialize on the carnage. The film’s climax has the sort of high drama every documentary filmmaker prays for, marked by an act on El Fandi’s part that proves that bullfighting is, in the words of one talking head, “truly on the margin of rationality.”

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