Rio 2016 has the distinction of being South America’s first Olympics Games, but it’s not the first time the Olympic torch has been lit over Latin America. Back in 1968 the games made their way to Mexico City, where despite the tragic repression of student protests and controversy over the political views of some athletes, the event brought numerous world records and that good ole’ Olympic spirit to the Mesoamerican metropolis.
Luckily for those of us who weren’t there, filmmaker Alberto Isaac was hired by the Mexican Olympic committee to document the whole affair, and it just happened to turn into one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time.
The 105-minute feature, entitled Olimpiada en Mexico (The Olympics in Mexico), follows in a tradition established by Nazi propaganda master Leni Riefenstahl with her gorgeously shot 1938 document of the Berlin Games, Olympia. But whereas Riefenstahl was an unrepentant fascist who wove a triumphalist narrative of god-like physical perfection, Isaac wasn’t so concerned with the glory of athletic triumph and brought the radical spirit of 1960s Latin America to his first feature.
Like his cinematic counterparts in nearby Cuba, Isaac employed an inventive play of sound and music to accompany the doc’s dynamic camerawork, focusing on the quiet efforts of each athlete and seemingly probing into their interior worlds. In addition, the use of slow motion, long lenses, and geometric compositions all lend to the film’s sensitive and aesthetically powerful study of bodies in motion.
Isaac, however, wasn’t exactly an established director at the time of shooting, and he had previously made his name as an Olympic swimmer representing Mexico in the 1948 and 1952 games. With The Olympics in Mexico, the Mexico City-born artist-athlete made a resounding statement that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and established a long career that ultimately brought him 11 Ariel Awards (given by Mexico’s Academy of Film.)
But in the end, with its unique style and evocative imagery, Alberto Isaac’s masterpiece is much more than a sports documentary — it is a reminder of the limitless possibilities of the cinematic form.
[h/t: Cinema Tropical]