Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Madrid (Reuters): The triumphs of the bullfighter Manolete and his tragic early death in 1947 have become legendary in Spain, but his eyebrow-raising relationship with actress Lupe Sino has been largely ignored. A new film with Hollywood stars Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz is about to fill this gap in Manolete's otherwise well-documented life story. Manolete's death at just 30 years old stunned Spain, still reeling from a bitter civil war in the late 1930s. Historians and biographers say the matador helped meet the national need for diversion and relief in the age of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, when bullfighters were like the rock stars of today.
Manolete's biographers wrote that Sino had a shady reputation and was said to be after his money, but underlying their words was a basic hostility to women in the bullfighting world -- graphically described by Joselito, another legendary matador. ''The worst enemy a bullfighter can have is a woman. Women are sweet wine which goes to your head easily and bends your legs. And to be a bullfighter you have to be strong (...) with legs of steel,'' Joselito, a forerunner to Manolete, was quoted as saying in a biography by Francisco Narbona.
Bullfighting has long been considered in Spanish-speaking countries as an art rather than a sport, and an almost exclusively male preserve. Manolete's mother and his professional circle disliked Sino, partly because of the bullfighting lore that women and bulls do not mix. As Manolete bled to death after his fatal goring on August 28, 1947, Sino was barred from seeing him on ''doctor's orders'' in case the matador tried to marry her in his final moments. Even then matadors earned a fortune, and a deathbed marriage would have snatched the juicy inheritance from his family. Despite efforts to blacken her character, it is widely accepted that Manolete and Sino were besotted with one another.
''There was a bit of an upset when he went to Mexico with her, because they were living together and it was said she was a loose woman ... but they were very much in love,'' Antonete, a 74-year-old retired bullfighter, told Reuters in an interview. Manolete's closest friends tried to persuade him to leave her, but photographs show them looking relaxed and happy together. Director Menno Meyjes, better known as the scriptwriter of ''The Color Purple'' and ''Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'', says the film is about a love triangle of sorts. ''She is in love with him, he is in love with her, but he is also in love with death,'' he says in an interview released as a preview to the movie. Filming of ''Manolete'' ended in July, and the premiere is due next year. ''He meets this marvellous woman who tries to seduce him to separate him from the dance with death which is part of his life, his identity ... And that creates enormous tension in their relationship,'' he said.
Meyjes said he became fascinated by Manolete's face -- Adrien Brody looks uncannily like him -- because he was so tragic-looking. When researching the matador's life in Spain, he asked about Lupe Sino and was repeatedly told she was a ''loose woman''. ''However, at the end of my trip I met some people who were friends of Manolete and they told me that he was always asking her to marry him, and she would never accept. Then I started to think what a fascinating person she must have been,'' he said.
Experts say Manolete himself became the stuff of legend not only because of his innovation in the ring, but because he made bullfighting more popular than ever as a spectacle, before the arrival of television. ''He drew crowds at a time when Spain was full of hunger and misery, in the years after the war. People would say 'I'm going to pawn my mattress so I can see Manolete,''' laughed Antonete. Antonete was inspired by Manolete at the age of 9.
''Manolete started to use his left hand as well as his right -- which is now commonplace -- and he impressed everyone with his nobility inside the ring and out. He used to fight in villages, not just at the big bullrings, because he used to say that humble people deserved to see a bullfight too.'' Manolete died just as Antonete was about to make his debut in Madrid, aged 16. ''It left me feeling empty. I thought twice about whether to go ahead after a bull had killed the best matador,'' he said.
Documentary footage, shot just over a month before Manolete died, shows the bullfighter in his 'suit of lights' facing a half-tonne bull in Madrid, one of his legs drenched with blood from a goring. Manolete insisted on completing the necessary ''manoletinas'' he had created -- sending the bull swirling around him, using his cape and sword but with his left hand behind his back. Having dominated and dizzied the animal, the matador lunged, pushing his sword deep into its neck and piercing its heart in the final and most difficult act of the ''corrida''. Only then did he allow himself to be helped from the ring. That was a dramatic preview of the bullfight weeks later in Linares in Andalusia, where he was fatally gored by the bull Islero -- famous in its own right after that moment -- just as he sent his sword deep into the animal's neck. Manolete died from the bleeding 24 hours later.
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