Hot Docs Review: Super Amigos

It's not everyday you see a documentary about real life superheroes. Arturo Perez Torres' Super Amigos is about an actual group of men who walk in plain daylight on the mean streets of Mexico donning full Lucha libre wrestling costumes -- masks, capes and all. But these guys aren't going to a comic book convention; they're activists -- albeit of the radical but peaceful variety -- fighting for social justice, environmental causes, animal rights, and equality.

The motley crew includes: Fray Tormenta (in gold, defender against poverty); Super Gay (in pink, champion for gay rights); Super Barrio (in red, pugilist against gentrification); Ecologista Universal (in green, eco-warrior) and Super Animal (in black, strider for the abolition of bullfighting).

If this film were not as clever in its construction, it would be simply ridiculous; so implausible, it would collapse under its own silliness and wayward idealism. But Super Amigos works because it has an unassuming attitude about itself that somehow convinces us to accept these mysterious weirdoes; because after all they're fighting the good fight.

Take an early scene for example where Super Barrio, an imposing bear of a man garbed in a tight red suit with mask and flowing cape (to say he stands out like a tree in the arctic is an understatement), casually walks into the apartment of an old woman who's been threatened with eviction. Not once does the old woman look at Super Barrio with an ounce of "what the hell is this?" on her face, yet I'm guffawing in the aisles. Eventually, Super Barrio sits down with the landlord to peacefully negotiate some new terms for the tenants... and is successful. To express their gratitude, the tenants put up a huge "Saved by Super Barrio" banner high on the faรงade of the building. It's comically glorious!

If the film has one big fist-pumping "'up yours' to the man" moment, it's when Super Animal barges through a police barricade during a demonstration to ban the barbaric sport of bullfighting. He does this with so much conviction and fearlessness, you'd almost think the guy's an unstoppable juggernaut; well, right up until he gets detained.

True to the code of the Lucha libre, the amigos' identities are never revealed... and the film respects this, although it inevitably creates a barrier that prevents us from truly understanding the personal motivations behind the do-gooders. The film therefore tries to remedy this by supplying each amigo with an origin story (all superheroes have them, right?) as rendered through comic-book style animations, yet these sequences are more like flights of fancy than anything we're suppose to take seriously. The animations are quite amusing, though, and the graphical transitions from reality to comic book panels remind me of the similar segues in Walter Hill's The Warriors: The Director's Cut. Nonetheless, Torres is brave in that he doesn't feel like it's necessary to deadbolt the film to realism, despite tackling some very real problems.

Super Amigos has a charming weirdness about it that's comparable to watching a Spike Jonze video but with a healthy dose of social consciousness. It's also punchy and flamboyant -- like the amigos themselves -- but thankfully doesn't lower itself towards outright camp. Makes me wonder, though, might there be other super amigos out there -- Super Sumo perhaps?

Super Amigos screens once more:
Sat, Apr 28, 11:30 PM at the Bloor Cinema

(Photo: Open City Works)

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