The mask of the Luchador—worn by Mexico’s premiere wrestling stars—is not a commonplace accessory. These uniquely styled face coverings reference everything from modern religion to the order of the ancient gods. Many wrestlers also take their Lucha Libre identity outside of the ring, wearing the mask in public. It is in this way that their mythology is born, and the performers’ identities become—ultimately—larger than life.
Attracted to the alluring spectacle of the game, Italian-born filmmaker Carlotta Manaigo set out to get beneath the mask of one particular, and much loved, Luchador: Mistico. She first encountered the champion fighter while watching the sport at the Mexican capital’s centre for Lucha Libre wrestling, the Arena Mexico—a faded yellow building in Colonia Doctores that looks something like a converted cinema. Its humble exterior—the walls are scuffed and sprayed with graffiti—belies the dramatic intensity of the action that takes place inside, mostly once the sun has set.
“Mistico caught our attention for his physique and charisma on stage,” explains the now New York-based photographer and director. “After that night of spectacle we became interested in finding out more about this sport, but also about the everyday life of the luchadores, wanting to know them as people, and attempting to reveal the mystery behind their mask.” What follows is a colorful account of one of the world’s most mythologized sporting traditions, and the story—part real, part staged—of the man known as Mistico.
“We follow him as a grown up man in his everyday routine,” continues Manaigo: “Exercising, washing his car (the Mistico mobile), going to the market, and dancing with his girlfriend at a cabaret. We witness Mistico’s dedication to his faith and his mission as a fighter in the ‘Sacred Ring.'” And, ultimately, we understand the way in which the Luchador becomes a reflection of his city—”one of the biggest and most colorful in the world.”
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