One of the most significant differences between a documentary and a film based on a true story is that documentaries can be about things that failed. Documentaries about big events are often started during the setup, and it’s always possible that the subject of the documentary will fail and render the whole thing moot. But even if there won’t be a fictional retelling of the story, that documentary could still see a release.
Even if you hadn’t heard the story, you knew that Miracle was going to end in a win. That’s the whole reason it exists. Maravilla, though? I was less sure… and a lot more excited.
Director: Juan Pablo Cadaveira
Release Date: TDB
I find boxing kind of upsetting. I have no problem with its existence or popularity, but the whole concept of watching people actually hit each other in the face until one of them gets a traumatic brain injury just doesn’t appeal to me. So the first few minutes of Maravilla were difficult, because it’s primarily close ups of the knockout blows that made Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez the champion that he is. But it’s not just the knockout blows but the sounds of the punches. Most people know that Hollywood sounds aren’t actually the sounds that come from a fist hitting flesh. And though boxing gloves bring the sounds a bit more in line, the squishy crunches accompanying the big strikes were clearly pumped up. And while I knew that was the case, it was hard to divorce myself from it, and it took the already-unpleasant reality of boxing and pumped it a notch.
But then Maravilla turns away from boxing and moves primarily to the boxer. Sergio Martinez is an Argentinian boxer who won the World Middleweight Championship fair and square before having the title stripped from him due for complicated political reasons. Through a series of events, Mexican boxer Julio Chavez Jr. got the title without ever going up against Martinez. Understandably, Martinez was unhappy about that, and that quest to take on Chavez Jr. is the focal point of Maravilla’s story.
If you’re a boxing fanatic, I don’t know how much of this film will be new to you. Maybe you’ve got posters of Martinez above your bed and know everything about his life, but for those who are completely new to his story, Maravilla basically covers all of the important ground. The only question that I left the theater with was how exactly the scoring system worked. When Martinez deals a knockout blow, obviously he’s the winner. But how do they decide who wins when they both finish the fight standing? Turns out, there’s a complicated scoring system that determines it, which is important and something I wish I’d known beforehand.
But aside from that, I never really felt like I was lost. Boxing has always struck me as a pretty simple sport, and nothing about Maravilla changed that. But even though the final result may seem pretty simple, what happens behind the scenes is anything but, and that’s why the film is interesting, because it exposes boxing’s interesting politics. Martinez may be the best middleweight boxer in the world, but as far as the big leagues were concerned, he wasn’t a big name. People didn’t know him and they wouldn’t pay for him. And if they couldn’t sell him on pay per view, they weren’t going to put him up against the extremely marketable Chavez Jr. The amount of work they have to go through to make the fight happen, all of it in the public eye, is fascinating. They hold up events, make public insults, and even get Martinez to become an Argentinian dancing star. All of this to bring Martinez to a fight.
But Maravilla is a one-sided affair. Although director Juan Pablo Cadaveira talks to people who believe that Chavez Jr. is worthy of the title he was given and that Martinez is overrated, those people are never given the same weight that the pro-Martinez camp are. And why should they be? It is named after Martinez after all, but it feels like the film is trying to present itself as fair when it obviously isn’t. Numerous people are featured in the film, and all of them have something to say. But when Maravilla doesn’t agree with their viewpoint, their words lose their impact, and they may as well not be there at all. It’s just fluff that the film disregards. And that’s fine, but why pretend?
When it gets to the big showdown, Maravilla becomes legitimately gripping, but the intensity of the fight is mitigated somewhat by the way the film cross-cuts with footage of Martinez’s family and friends watching on TV from Argentina. In and around the ring there’s a palpable sense of tension that’s missing from the spectating scenes. Perhaps it’s the obviously different cameras that create a jarring effect or maybe it’s the fact that these other people are not really swept up in the pageantry of this enormous spectacle, but every time it cut to Martinez’s mother shouting, I wanted desperately for it to return to the fight. It moved away from the action too frequently and stayed away too long.
Even so, I was still invested in the fight, especially since I didn’t know how it would end. The documentary was being made as the fight was being set up, and I believe it would have come out for better or worse, so with each successive round, I gasped and cheered (internally of course) in much the same way that people likely did last June when the fight took place. It didn’t convince me that I should watch more boxing matches, because I still find it an unpleasant sport on concept alone, but now I can understand why others are so enamored. If you are a big fan of Julio Chavez Jr., you’ll probably hate Maravilla, but everyone else will find something to enjoy.