Taking the Face: The Portuguese Bullfight (2008) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The timid 'toiro' forced into the role of gladiator, the matador that may not kill, the forcados that charge the bull in a head on collision, the village of Barrancos which for centuries has defied the law of the land prohibiting the slaying of the bull in the arena.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In the seventeenth century after the death of a young nobleman in a bullfight, the king of Portugal issued a decree requiring that the horns of a bull be sheered and covered before any bullfighting spectacle. Centuries later the killing of the bull in the ring was outlawed completely, thereby putting the finishing touches on the unique spectacle that is the Portuguese corrida.

    Taking The Face is a full length documentary that explores the phenomenon of the Portuguese bullfight in all its forms, from the bizarre ritual of the Giant Fork, to the training of Matadors who may never kill in their own country, to the colorful Forcados who charge bulls head-on without weapons, to the costumed Cavaliers and their dancing horses; to the spectacle of Barrancos the one brutal exception to the law; a world of contradiction, passion, faith and cruelty. Taking The Face follows the Touro Bravo from birth to death while exploring the rising polemic that may signal the traditions demise.

    Aldeia da Pointe: A tiny village in the northern edge of Portugal where the festa of the forcao takes place in homage to Saint Anthony, an event that might have been conceived by Monty Pythons Flying Circus in which a giant multi-tanged wooden fork is manned by the villages ex-patriate sons in a pitched battle with the sacrificial bull.

    Chamaco: Taking The Face follows a young Matador in training the eighteen year old Chamco of Alenquer - whose boyish demeanor and enthusiasm belie the grisly nature of his occupation, as he searches for bloody glory in the arena.

    The Tauro Bravo: Exploring the mythos around the famed bull, the object of so much attention and controversy, its origins and history; we follow the Tauro Bravo from its birth, through its idyllic existence in the wild, to the final twenty minutes of its life in the ring.

    The Old Bullfighter: Jose Julio, a living legend and one of Portugals most famous Matadors, guides us through the process of training the matador and killing the bull, explaining the details of the peculiar passion that is the corrida de morte.

    The Forcados: The jolly fraternity of costumed men whose objective is to take the face of the bull, charging it head on in a bone-crunching duel that sends bodies flying in all directions.

    The Cavaleiro: The vainglorious, laughing Cavalier who rides the famed Lusitano horse in seventeenth century costume, pursuing the bull with brightly ribboned harpoons as he is cheered on by the crowd.

    Barrancos: The outlaw state within a state and the only place in Portugal where the bull is still killed in the ring in defiance of Portuguese law. This town with its colorful history and its citizens who are descendents of smugglers and brigands, still call for the blood of the Tauro once a year in their annual homage to the Virgin.

    Taking The Face interviews the men and women, trainers, veterinarians, animal rights activists, aficionados, politicians, priests, ranchers, wranglers and bullfighters as it gives a colorful, in depth view of this controversial subject.

    By Matthew Bishop

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