Why You Should Watch Nacho Libre
Nacho Libre is a 2006 film starring Jack Black as a Oaxaca monk who dreams of becoming a Mexican luchador.
Written by Jerusha & Jared Hess and Directed by Jared Hess, Nacho Libre came hot off the heels of the pairs first cult classic hit Napoleon Dynamite.
Full of silly humour and in-ring action, the story of Nacho Libre is one of heart, passion and helping those who need it the most.
I loved the film when it came out and I recently re-watched it to better understand why I loved a film that received such a lacklustre and mixed reaction upon its release.
Ignacio, played by Jack Black, is a down-trodden monk and cook, at a monastery for orphans in Oaxaca, Mexico.
As the films introductory and eventual musical theme tells us, Ignacio is a proud and honourable religious man, however as he begins to broaden his horizons beyond the small sheltered world of the monastery, our protagonist finds himself with a desire for more from his life.
The story begins in a beautiful opening montage, letting us know a little about our main character and his past growing up orphaned himself.
I think this is a very successful way in quickly catching up the audience as well as allowing us some time to connect emotionally with Ignacio’s reasonings and helps us to understand his personality better in the amount of time it takes to run through the opening credits.
It’s not the first film to attempt this by any stretch of the imagination, however, alongside the visuals which are very reminiscent of Jerusha & Jared Hess’ earlier work Napoleon Dynamite
The opening few minutes of the films successfully deliver not only the aforementioned back story, but also manages to perfectly align us with the upcoming tone of the story in a comforting, relaxed and stylish way.
One which brought back memories of the first time I watched Nacho Libre back in 2006 and one which I am still fond of and grateful for.
We quickly move on to the next aspect of the film, which is the light-hearted and humorous tone.
We see Ignacio slopping out bowls of soup and nachos for the orphans at the monastery with a sense of pragmatism and pride in his work. However, Ignacio’s chipper spirit can do little to change the mood of the children who are clearly sick to death of these kinds of meals.
In this section we get an insight into how the tone of the films will progress from here.
Yes the dialogue is splattered with witty retorts and child like silliness, but for me the aspects of Nacho Libre which made me laugh and smile the most, was the overall feel of how each scene is presented.
How there is a slightly unpolished feel to the way each line is delivered and the way that the rough and ready way in which the film is presented only serves to permeate through all layers of the production to add such a warm and nostalgic atmosphere that you feel relaxed enough to laugh at even the most outlandish and nonsensical elements of the humour.
The next scene shows us how Ignacio is able to add the nachos to the meals which he prepares for the orphans.
We see him riding his ‘Nacho-mobile’ down an alleyway behind a restaurant to pick up their broken chips, which they have kindly labelled ‘orphan chips’.
Just as Ignancio jubilantly begins to ride off he is jumped by a skinny street urchin desperate for the broken tortilla pieces. The two men fight and eventually the strange man makes off with the sack of snacks.
We get a big chunk of the slap-stick style humour of the film in these scenes and that is something that seemingly continues throughout the entire story.
The way in which the two men’s fight is filmed only serves to make both men look slightly bumbling and incompetent, however determined they both might seem.
This street urchin character turns out to be, in Ignacio’s opinion, the perfect man to fight alongside in a tag team.
Yes, this makes no sense.
Later Ignacio gives the reasoning that the man is tall and fast, but for me – this point of the plot is better left in the section marked ‘do not think about too deeply’.
I appreciate that for some this weak story beat can be distracting, but for me, I’m happy to look past this point in a film about a monk who wants to be a wrestler, especially as we now leave the first act of the film and enter into our first match.
The film’s story takes place in a small village in Oaxaca, Mexico, a place where the best wrestlers are revered as idols and are afforded a life of luxury and excess.
Although Ignacio is a man of god and is forbidden from enjoying wrestling and praising its false idols, he is inspired when he witnesses the crowd gather to cheer and clap for their local hero.
The villain of the film and terrifying masked giant Ramires.
As is tradition in Mexican lucha libre, we see several of the combatants adorned in masks to protect their identity.
This is as much a part of the fabric of the history of pro wrestling in Mexico as the luchadors themselves.
As Ramires steps into the scene we see him adorned in a golden mask, a nod to another film based around the same story called L’homme au masque d’or from 1991 in which actor Victorio Gaetano wore a similar golden mask.
The mask also clearly signifying this man’s status as he pushed past countless adoring fans and into the arena.
We find out that this sparkling man-mountain is the most popular and powerful wrestler in the region at the time, Ramires was played by real-life lucha legend Cesar Gonzalez, known by his in-ring name of Silver King.
A man who had a prestigious career in Mexico and around the world, following in his father Dr. Wagner’s footsteps as a powerhouse in the ring who could also fly around as well as a man half their size.
Even with 90 percent of his face covered, as soon as the character Ramires came on screen I knew that Silver King was the man under the mask.
It immediately hit me with a sense of sadness and on a personal level, it made me really remember just how much of an excellent wrestler he was and what an unbelievably iconic persona.
For me, on a deeper level, the sadness comes from the fact that in 2019, I had convinced some friends who are not wrestling fans at all to attend a lucha show with me in London.
They were varying degrees of sceptical but with the mariachi band ringing out around the arena, some comedy matches to get the crowd on their feet and a lot of margaritas in our bellies, we were all having such a great evening.
Until, the match which I was most excited about took place. Two legends from my childhood, Juventud Guerrera versus Silver King, I’d been telling my friends about the two characters for days leading up to the event.
When they made their way to the ring I felt like a little kid again and for me that is a huge part of why I love pro wrestling.
What happened next was horrendous. As the match got into it’s groove, after a fall to the mat, Silver King seemingly could not regain his feet.
He was laid out, heavily panting on his back, not 10 meters away from us.
Being the smark that I am, I grinned to myself as my friends turned to one another, saying “oh no, he’s injured, I hope he is okay” and words to that effect.
But I knew, all these years of watching wrestling, I knew that any minute now Silver King would pop back to his feet and regain his momentum only to alight the crowd with his explosive power.
I was waiting, longer and longer I waited. The referee was checking on Silver King and called Juventud over to the pair, he then pinned Silver King and was declared the winner.
This is when I began to suspect something had gone wrong. EMTs and trainers ran from the back and people started to try and resuscitate Silver King as the stewards in the arena hastily shepherd us out of the doors.
The show was over so abruptly and as we headed for the underground tube station the sounds of ambulances and police sirens muffled the crowd’s questions about what we had all just witnessed.
Now I know that is miserable, but I wanted to highlight how Silver King died doing what he loved, entertaining the crowd and being the best showman, he could.
I mean no disrespect when I say this – but what a fucking hero, the man finished the match as he was dying.
And that speaks to just how much Silver King loved pro wrestling. Something which is echoed in the way in which the world of pro wrestling is shown in Nacho Libre.
Now for something a little more light-hearted. Every super hero film, every good action hero, every great wrestler, needs a fitting training montage.
A trope which we’ve seen recreated in countless ways over the years, Nacho Libre manages to push the comical to it’s silly extreme in a series of training scenes which show our two main characters aiming to hone their skills to better succeed in the ring.
These scenes are filled with child-like humour which may be a little too much for some, but for me it’s is shot in such a beautiful way, with the film allowing us just enough time to bond with the protagonists in scenes which aren’t realistic and aren’t hilarious, but in the context of the film make perfect sense.
We see the two men sling-shotting melons at each other to toughen up their bodies. Firing arrows at a man with poo smeared over his eyes, serving as the worlds most disgusting blindfold.
We see Jack Black’s character recreate the famous scene from the Jackass movie where Johnny Knoxville gets obliterated by a raging bull.
The film uses some pretty dated visual effects here which although fully understandable, Jack Black is not Johnny Knoxville and I don’t blame him for not wanting to literally get gored by a bull.
In a more serious film this CGI would probably ruin the effect of the scene, but for me, for some reason which I can’t fully explain, in the handful of scenes where the visual effects are dated to the point of being very recognisable, only seems to add to the humorous and home-made feel of the film.
In a Tim & Eric kind of way.
Probably not the intention of the film makers, but nonetheless somehow even this turns into a positive for me upon re-watching.
We see the two men be attacked by beans and go for a run before deciding that they are ready to continue with the next stage of their wrestling career!
Without proper costumes, characters or entrances we see Ignacio who goes under the ring name Nacho, and his team mate Steven adopts the name "Esqueleto" or (Skeleton). They step into the ring to little applause and it’s evident that they have an uphill struggle ahead of them.
Opposed to them is another team, which consists of the classic tropes of the large, cocky and extremely dashing wrestler who the fans just love to hate and hate to love, with the females in the first row clearly enamoured and enfactuated by these handsome men.
Cleary Nacho and his team mate are out matched and inexperienced, but they attempt to give it their best shot.
Even though their opponents seemingly take complete control of the match, with Nacho outside the ring showing off and posing for the crowd, we see Esqueleto being demolished in the background of the shot, he gets slammed and punched, pushed, kicked and clotheslined before taking a belly to back face slam and being forced into the camel clutch submission then going for the tag with his partner.
Nacho falls over the top rope into the ring, gets into a collar and elbow tie up with his opponent before being shoved into the corner post. As his attacker flies through the air, Nacho manages to slip out of the way and causes his opponent to crash into the corner turnbuckle.
Nacho seizes the opportunity and spanks the upturned bottom of his foes before delivering a couple of crushing knees.
As he stands up in what he perceives as victory he is rushed by a flying dropkick from behind and the match is ended with Nachos defeat.
With most men clearly hurt and feeling down we find them in the locker room after the match where they both voice their disappointment. Only to be met by the promoter of the wrestling show who hands them an envelope filled with their pay and explains how the fans want to see more of this new tag team and that everyone gets a cut of the shows earnings.
With this this rest of the story is set as the two realise that even if they get their butts kicked, they can still make a much more sizeable living by jumping into the world of Lucha Libre.
THE REAL STORY
Jumping into the world of pro wrestling and lucha libre is such a pull for some in the real world, from the time in which the story the film is based off took place, all the way to the modern day, whether it be boxing or MMA in the real world of fighting, or those that serve their violence with a little more choreography and flare, fighting and entertainment is a way out of poverty for some, and a dream for so many others during their childhoods and beyond.
The same can be said for the real life figure which the story of Nacho Libre is loosely based. Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez grew up adoring the films starring masked wrestlers such as 1963’s El Senor Tormenta (mister Storm) and Tormenta En El Ring (Storm In The Ring) both are classic action films about a masked religious figure who enters into the wrestling ring in order to gain money to feed the poor and starving children of his neighbourhood.
As Benitez travelled through his teens he picked up a drug and alcohol addiction and turned to his Catholic religion for salvation, in turn training to become part of the Piarists Order on a journey of religious enlightenment which saw him travel initially to Rome where he studied philosophy, then on to Spain and eventually going on to teach the ways of the Roman Catholic church back in his home country of Mexico.
As he continued to try and aid those around him, he became a secular priest in the Diocese of Texcoco and he created an orphanage which served nearly 300 children.
During this time, Benitez began to follow in his dreams of becoming a luchador and went on to have a successful career which ran through decades until his retirement in 2011, but not before appearing in some of the biggest promotions in South America.
Including CMLL in Mexico and creating a legacy as Fray Tormenta, starring in numerous films including the 1991 French film L’homme au masque d’or (The Man In The Golden Mask) which heavily inspired the creation of Nacho Libre in itself and 2007’s Padre Tormenta in which a semi-fictional version of Fray Tormenta’s life story is played out.
As well as television shows Fray Tormenta has even been as a side character in the Mexican comic book series Mistico El Principe de Plata y Oro as the main characters coach and teacher.
The exact figures and facts of all these stories are of course covered in the fog of pro wrestling mystery.
But to me this is one of the most fascinating tales of all of the squared circles history’s, and It’s clear to see that so many others find the story just and intriguing when we look at just how much popular media it has inspired.
Every character in Nacho Libre is exaggerated, this is a comedy after all. However, for some, especially those who find themselves in a position where they simply cannot bare any Jack Black performance, may find this film to be enough to push them over the edge.
From Black’s signature melodic improvisations and the way in which he has such a signature way of delivering his lines can understandably grate on some people, and Nacho Libre will not be your salvation in this instance.
For me, I find myself in the middle-ground where I can fully appreciate how Black’s chubby grin and whacky quips can be terrible, but in this film I find it perfectly fitting for the character of Nacho and the tone of the film.
If you don’t like Jack Black then there is a good chance that in this film which sees him at his peak Jack-Blackiness, you will most likely not be able to stomach it.
But for me Nacho as a character at his core is silly, kind and a bit of a buffoon and I think that Jack Black plays the role as well as anyone could.
Black gives it his all in the small amounts of in-ring action we see from him, most of the rest of the fighting is clearly performed by stunt doubles, but for me it’s a great compromise where by we are allowed to witness some proper wrestling throughout the film, the details of the rest I will not spoil as I do really think that it’s worth going back and trying to spot all of the real pro wrestling moves which we seen thrown about by some of the background stars of the film.
Two highlights for me include a version of Rey Mysterio’s 619 by a caveman with dwarfism and a match ending Tombstone piledriver that even the Undertaker would be proud of.
Suffice to say, the action in the film is shot in a way that best displays the limited abilities of the actors and hides their flaws behinds excellent editing and the clever idea to have Jack Black’s character wear a mask at all times during his matches, in the story this is because he does not want to be identified by those at his church, but in real life it’s just a smart way to be able to bring in a masked stunt double and have more of the wrestling in the end product.
Wrestling fans wont be disappointed at the amount of great wrestling on display, some nice high flying moves and the occasional powerbomb, however there isn’t so much that the average viewer would lose interest.
The film manages to keep the action straight forward enough that even someone who had never seen a single wrestling match would clearly understand who has won and who has lost, similarly you don’t need to be a pro wrestling historian to understand who the classic good and bad guys are – it’s obvious from the get go and for that I must applaud the films creators.
The world of Nacho Libre as portrayed through Xavier Grobet’s gorgeous cinematography, is rich, warm and full of loving touches which really allow you to soak in the atmosphere as you sink into the comfort of every scene.
The natural beauty of Mexico is used to great effect with brilliant shots of the area which surrounds the monastery where Ignacio lives and works. The arid desert and lack of greenery provide a warming effect which is brilliantly juxtaposed by the flashed of blue which are used throughout the film, most predominantly on the in-ring wrestling outfit of Nacho himself, this contrast is a pleasure for the eyes and helps to solidify in my mind the feelings of nostalgia which I believe the film is attempting and succeeding and delivering through the way in which it is filmed.
For a film which is first and foremost shot for comedic effect, with it’s quick cuts and lingering shots which hang on a characters reaction for just a second too long – this film and the artistry of Xavier Grobet’s work still manage to provide the audience with plentiful scenes which stand out in the memory long after the film has ended.
Emotions are heightened and a sense of real passion is felt during the final act of the film, in which we see Nacho reach his lowest possible limits within the monastery and head out in a literal blaze to finally fight for what he believes in.
The way the entire scene is handled with Ignacio walking away from his former life, beaten, burned and bruised as the music swell and he walks towards his future, we see him pull on the Nacho mask and reveal his intentions, all without speaking a word – the story is clear and although in my opinion this is partly due to Jack Black’s excellent performance in the scene, but no doubt in a huge part because of the magical way in which it’s shot, beautifully simple and incredibly effective.
The rest of the story, it’s details I will leave for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, lead to a very much cliché ending of happiness and redemption which sees all of our favourite characters driving off into the sunset.
For me this is the perfect ending and so fitting with the tone of the rest of the story, it’s not that we have spent 9 hours building up Nacho as a character, like say watching the Michael Corleone in The Godfather series, but if you are sitting down to watch Nacho Libre then that isn’t what you expect.
With what little the film delivers In terms of the amount of time we spend with each character I feel that it does an amazing job of allowing you to feel connected enough to give a shit about the ending and how it turns out for Nacho, that being said – you certainly shouldn’t expect a deep dive character piece in this Nickelodeon produced slap stick comedy film.
We see Nacho progress from his selfish desire to become rich and powerful, and changing into a more selfless man who sees the benefits and needs to help those less fortunate around him.
Initially Nacho is a simple monk, then he has a dream to become famous as a wrestler, then he realised he wants to help the children and believes that he must give up wrestling and turn to a strict life with god, it’s only when Nacho realises that he can use his love and passion for lucha libre in order to get the money to help the children and give back to the community that he is able to overcome all of the obstacles in his way.
“The film was released on June 16, 2006 by Paramount Pictures. It received mixed reviews from critics and grossed $99.3 million at the worldwide box office against its $35 million production budget.”
Yes it’s simple and the film is only 95 minutes, allowing very little time for us to linger on any one particular moment in this development, but for such a streamlined and succinct story I believe Nacho Libre delivers enough warmth, love and care from pro wrestling, shot in a beautiful and well thought out way with catchy music and over-the-top performances by people who clearly care about the project, is really worth re-watching as a wrestling fan.
It’s not the cult classic that other work from the creators such as Napoleon Dynamite have become, but if you haven’t already seen it then I’d suggest giving this film a watch. but if you are a fan of pro wrestling or not, it’s worth an hour and a half of your time.