★★★★☆

In the opening moments of Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim’s Luchadoras, female workers take a bumpy bus ride to factories situated on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez. Looking out of windows, lost in thought, there’s no conversation, but a measured voiceover recounts the details of a woman raped by a driver, and left for dead in the desert. It is a chilling, yet matter of fact prologue.

The inference of sound and image is clear: it could have been any one of them; it could still be any one of them. This was far from an isolated incident. Equally, it demonstrates the directorial pairing’s skill in conveying a layered duality of meaning. For the issue of femicide is widespread and unchallenged by the local authorities, who are – it is implied – complicit. For fear of the repercussions, none have ever truly confronted this issue. And unable to trust the police, to whom can the victims of domestic violence turn but each other?

Luchadoras – and its powerful female collective – fights outward appearances on two fronts, by raising awareness of the alarming rates of abuse and femicide in Mexico as well as what can be done to combat these issues and how women protect themselves. Earlier capturing the apparently calm, even vacant, expressions of those on the bus could suggest tiredness, a lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming shift, but with the shocking context comes an understanding of concern, wariness etched on these faces. Taking on menial factory graveyard shifts for fifty dollars a week should not place these women in such a position, but that is the dangerous reality.

Calvo and Jasim’s film focuses on the life and experiences of three female wrestlers. “Instead of helping them, they locked their homes,” says Candy to Mini Sirenita, recalling her grandmother’s traumatic, guilt-ridden memories of the mutilated women she failed to help and whose bodies were discovered in the desert. Missing posters and reward signs, regular news announcements of women killed by their partners, first-hand testimony from the Luchadoras themselves – and intimidation caught as it occurs by Jasim’s camera – are all indicators that a multi-generational issue is as prevalent now as ever.

Divided by no more than a fence and matter of metres from the relative safety and prosperity of El Paso in the United States, the gulf in comparison with life in Juárez – named by Candy as “the most dangerous city in the world” – is yet another bitter opposition. So near and yet so far. Having not seen her two daughters for many months after they were taken across the border by her abusive ex-husband, she fights – and even wagers her long dark hair on one occasion – to earn money for her visa application. Baby Star, a single mother from a renowned Lucha Libre family, wears signature masks for the duration of the film.

Whether due to a commitment to her fighting persona, or to protect her identity, it’s reflective of a need to blur public perception and private reality. Like Candy, she fights for her daughter and the next generation. When we are later informed that a person is killed every two and a half hours in Mexico for being a woman or a trans woman, it’s overwhelmingly clear why these ladies fight fire with fire. Behind all the sequins, spandex and choreographed moves, what happens in the ring gives them the courage to fight for their rights, their safety and their future outside the arena – and for all those who have been lost.

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Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63