GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Rodolfo Rodriguez, known as “El Pana,” was a man of the streets with a complex personality who thrived on bullfighting’s theatricality, the director of the documentary “El brujo de Apizaco” (The Wizard of Apizaco) told EFE ahead of a screening of the film in Guadalajara.
“He came from nothing. He was a street tiger. He sold tamales, washed cars. He was a survivor. So when they tell him that in bullfighting there would be women, money, fame and glory in exchange for risking your life, he thought ‘well my life is screwed already; I have nothing to lose,’ and that’s where he finds meaning in life,” filmmaker Rodrigo Lebrija said.
El Pana was born in 1952 into a poor family from Apizaco, in the central Mexican state of Tlaxcala.
As a teenager and young adult, he worked as a baker – hence his nickname, which comes from the Spanish word for baker (panadero) – and did all he could to make a living before finding fame and glory in the bullring.
He died in 2016 of complications of quadriplegia about a month after being gored in the ring at the age of 64 in the northern city of Lerdo. His death brought an end to the longest career in the history of Mexican bullfighting.
In the documentary, Rodriguez himself narrates how a master baker encouraged him to try out bullfighting because he had a matador’s body, telling him that he would find no lack of women and wine.
Lebrija met the bullfighter in Madrid in 2008. He recalls that he was impressed by the man, who was “funny, vulgar, serious, entertaining and also profound.”
The film is more than a homage. It takes a brutally honest look at the rise and fall of this controversial and irreverent bullfighter, who was both loved and hated and who died in the bullring as he had always wanted to, Lebrija said.
The documentary shows crowds acclaiming El Pana in dozens of bullfights in Mexico, yet it also shows his facet as an addict, sitting in his room in an Alcoholics Anonymous rehabilitation center or walking the streets, gray-haired and underweight, without anyone recognizing him.
“El brujo de Apizaco” premiered last November and will be briefly shown at cinema houses and cultural spaces in Guadalajara before being screened at several commercial theaters starting in March. It will also be available for purchase on platforms such as iTunes and Amazon.