A coming-of-age narrative lends itself to a sweep of emotion and a wide expanse of time. The consolidating sense of elongation in the protagonist’s journey as he forays through the years is taken to represent growth, change, and a flush of new realizations. One would assume then that we are witnessing a character wizening up or staying unaffected by the passage of years. How the individual responds to shifting circumstances and to what degree they contribute to that shift makes for the dramatic thrust in the material.

The principal subject/protagonist is supposed to be anchoring the movement of the narrative, steering it in a way that either draws the viewer in or pushes him away. The individual may subvert expectations and assume a distance, making the viewer resign to the status of a passive observer and not admit him into an equation of intimate access with personal thoughts and a dash of dilemmas. It is a decision that is possibly arrived at through dialogue between the filmmaker and the subject. Inma de Reyes’ documentary, “The Boy and the Suit of Lights,” zooms in on a young boy’s coming-of-age journey over a five-year span.

The Spanish town of Castellon is famed for a tradition of the bullfighting sport. The spectacle makes the town abuzz with activity and heightened interest. However, it is not without its share of detractors. Matches are occasionally intervened in by protestors, highlighting the stakes of the sport and especially the direct brutality meted out to the animals for the sake of entertainment. There are also tidings of a government-imposed ban on the sport. Nevertheless, the perspective through which we enter this world, one where an interest in the sport is passed down generationally, is inclined to sustain it owing to the money players can potentially rake in. Borja is barely stepping into his teens when he is on the verge of being absorbed into a participant.

The Boy and the Suit of Lights (2024) ‘Sheffield DocFest’ Movie Review
A still from “The Boy and the Suit of Lights” (2024)

The influence is inescapable. Every other youngster around him is signing up for it, falling into the sway of tradition. Borja is the elder brother of Erik. They live with their single mother, Raquel Miranda. She can hardly scrape together a livelihood that can attend to the wishes and needs of her sons. For Borja and Erik, the other paternal figure is their grandfather, Matias Miranda. It is he who tries to instill in the boys a knack for the sport, though only Borja seems to invest his effort and drive in it. The grandfather, who wasn’t allowed a shot at the sport by his father, channels his missed chance through the boys. He exhorts Borja to be bolder, tasking him to pull his family out of the dire straits they are marooned in.

The film puts great emphasis on the training, delineating specifics to be kept in mind during the game, ranging from adroitly controlling the flapping movement of the muleta and ensuring its proper pointedness at the bull to honing a state of supreme alertness. Even as we are planted into the middle of the process and witness the watchful, observant Borja hone his skill at it, there’s only so much we are granted access to his thoughts and what underpins his choices. Borja is reserved and guarded, and it is mostly at the behest of his more animated, flamboyantly outgoing younger brother and his friends’ curiosities that he opens up.

However, this attribute of the film yields brilliantly in ceding agency to Borja as we observe him through the years instead of alienating us from him or rendering him a figure clad in obfuscation. The music by Nascuy Linares and Jonathan Fyfe is especially effective and opportune in the training sequences, evoking the gradual immersion of the boy into the art. In “The Boy and the Suit of Lights,” Inma de Reyes sensitively handles change and transition through the years, charting a trajectory that respects and trusts its subjects enough to let them orient us through their life and world. Overall, it offers a deeply, movingly empathetic, humane look.

The Boy and the Suit of Lights premiered at the Sheffield DocFest 2024.

The Boy and the Suit of Lights (2024) Movie Link: IMDb

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