Nearly every culture on the planet looks up to people like politicians, entertainers, writers, and athletes as role models or leaders. It’s no one wonder then why there are so many biopics telling the challenging life and times of these types of people. Biopics, like any other genre, have some tropes and vary in quality. Biopics also have a special attachment to some of the people who watch them. Fans of the subject will love or hate the film based on the stance the movie takes. In some cases, if the wrong people don’t like what you have to say about the subject, your movie will be outright banned from a country. Such is the case of EL INCA, a film that answers the question: What if Rocky and Raging Bull had a baby raised in Venezuela?
El Inca is the second film from writer/director Ignacio Castillo Cottin, though it’s his first feature since 2008. However, nine years between making movies didn’t seem to phase Cottin’s skill. The first things that you’ll notice about El Inca as the biopic begins to play out are the muted colors and Tarantino-esque camera work. Cottin’s primary objective through the film is to put you in the life of a Venezuelan trying to navigate a chaotic life. If you remember Tarantino’s seminal work Pulp Fiction, there’s a lot of similar long takes with the camera “hanging out” near the scene. It sometimes feels like we’re eavesdropping on the lives of the people in El Inca.
So, who is “El Inca?” If you’re not a boxing fan, you’ve likely never heard of him, but Edwin “El Inca” Valero was a Venezuelan-born, world championship boxer. As the film makes note, Valero holds several world records, including being the only boxer to win his first eighteen matches by first-round knockout. Valero was a force of nature in the ring, and as the film shows, outside the ring as well. As a youth, Valero was estranged from his father, lived where he trained and stole motorcycles with his best friend. As Valero’s career in the ring begins to rise he falls in love, is arrested, and his best friend murdered.
Love and violence are the two underlying themes in conflict throughout Valero’s life. Heaps of praise should fall on both leads. Alexander Leterni as Valero morphs before your very eyes and carries a bright, charming smile at first. But that visage devolves as drugs and alcohol unravel Valero’s life. Scarlett Jaimes as Valero’s wife, Carolina, rides the wave of Valero’s personality with grace but does get a moment to take off the gloves that’s satisfying. That scene, like many in the film, felt very Tarantino-inspired.
Cottin, like Tarantino, likes to let the imagination enhance the work. In so many movies, brutality is shown mostly for shock value. But in El Inca, Cottin hides a lot of it, keeps it just off screen, to make your mind race with brutal imagery. In one particular scene where Valero is pummeling a man on the ground, fists fly up and down coming on screen for only a half-second at a time. Brutal sound effects fill the space, and the only site of blood are brief seconds of red that glint under the streetlights.
The Venezuelan government banned El Inca after a successful theatrical run in the country. As usual, the move to silence the film backfired and has given the movie more exposure. But El Inca never gets political. It never delves into the Chavez regime. I suspect it was banned because Valero is a national hero and the film delves into the uglier parts of his life. The single ugliest part comes in two scenes that bookend the film. In the opening sequence, we learn that Carolina is dead and Valero may have murdered her.
To put it simply, El Inca is fantastic. Fans of boxing movies will appreciate the brief tour through a period of the sport’s history and Valero’s epic bout with El Loco or “The Crazy Guy.” As a drama, it works to tell the story of a tragic romance and the rise and fall of a special talent. Just like a child is not entirely like the father or the mother, El Inca is not Rocky or Raging Bull, it stands on its own with a unique perspective.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to the Miami Film Festival for inventing me to a special screening of El Inca – http://miamifilmfestival.com/home/