La Lucha - Film Review

by Juan J. Arroyo


“La Lucha” opens with an image many around the world, but certainly in Latin America, are familiar with: a homeless disabled man walking perilously between vehicles as they drive towards their destination, paying him only enough mind so as to not run him over. It’s no less anxiety-producing onscreen than it is in person, and in this case it’s also the stark catalyst of a long and arduous journey the documentary will follow over the next 90 minutes.

Director Violeta Ayala wastes no time thrusting viewers into the plot, ostensibly as it is. In approximately 2016, in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, a group of approximately 60 disabled men & women have taken up the cause of petitioning the government of Evo Morales to grant all disabled people in the country a monthly pension of $70 to help them inch closer towards a life of “dignity”. To this end, they’ve decided to travel to La Paz, the country’s administrative capital, in an effort to force Morales to meet them and engage with their petition. Their leaders, who receive the most screentime, are the charismatic Marcelo, his gold-hearted wife Feliza, dogged believer Rose Mery, and a young but fearless supporter named Miguel. Over nearly two months they travel in their wheelchairs, pushed by volunteers, sleeping in tents on the side of the road, braving the blazing sun during the day and cold nights. Over this period we get to know their personalities and back stories; Marcelo, for instance, tries to keep the group’s expectations in check with pragmatic rhetoric about how much they can extract from the negotiations (“First [we get] the bread, then the cheese”), but also shows signs of being a fighter willing to scrap if necessary. His disability, he reveals, was a result of polio that aggravated his scoliosis. During one of their stops, during a radio interview, Feliza recalls having to drag herself off a bus, “wiping the floor with my body”, because the driver nor other passengers offered to help her. It’s impossible to not feel for them, and even moreso when footage is shown of a politician calling them “stubborn” and rejecting the pension, implying they don’t deserve it because “they don’t add anything” to the country.

Once they reach La Paz, you would be forgiven for thinking that, even if the meetings are infructuous, at least the worst part of their journey would be over. Instead, they are barred from even approaching the main government buildings, as police raise metal barriers, closing down streets and obstructing the way for not only the disabled protestors but also all pedestrians. Leaning into the situation, the groups hunkers down and refuse to leave the city until they get the meeting they came for.

Over the next hour, Ayala does an admirable job of inserting herself into harrowing scenes of clashes between the protestors and police. Exasperated, Marcelo, Rose Mery, and others attempt to bring down the barriers only to be pepper-sprayed and barreled with water cannons. Even more dispiriting is the footage of La Paz citizens insulting them and angrily urging them to give up. Ayala does a great job of underlining how difficult the situation was for these people during the weeks they stood their ground, which only reinforces the tenacity with which they soldiered on. “Soldiered” is not a word used lightly, but neither is it wholly uncalled for, as towards the opening before starting their initial sojourn, one protestor hails “We’re off to war!” As the events continue to unfold, and the stakes get higher alongside even more dramatic shows of force and protest, culminating in some tragedy and even UN involvement, “The Fight” becomes even more captivating. The doc doesn’t worry about showing where its politics lie in the ideological sense as we know it, but instead centers the plight of the disabled characters as something that supersedes left or right-wing. Anyone who comes into it with the mentality of trying to discern its slant so as to try to decide out if it speaks to them would be missing the main message, which is that everyone across all political spectrums should be in favor of the disabled community being granted the means to lead a dignified life. The heroes featured here show the full swath of how a fight like this can both elevate and break down the human spirit, and makes “The Fight” be a title with two meanings; the fight against the system, and the fight to not give up.