At the beginning of Like Water, Pablo Croce’s documentary about MMA superstar Anderson Silva, there’s a snippet of film dedicated to Bruce Lee. In an interview, he describes the process of fighting as fluid and uncontainable, using various tea-related metaphors to further link his philosophies to the film’s eponymous fighter. There’s a lot to say about the construction of the film, but it’s hard to ignore the immediate forced relationship between the two greats, a link that whilst interesting does set the film up as an incredibly biased documentary about the man, his talents, and little else.
Anderson Silva is an MMA competitor. MMA, or mixed martial arts, is a highly Americanised amalgamation of various fighting influences, that makes for something of a human, modern-day cock fighting experience. Two men, or women, beat each other up inside an Octagon whilst beer-swilling, high-protein fuelled, testosterone infused fans scream and shout, often mistaking their roles as more important than those of the athletes. Nevertheless, Silva, himself, is meant to represent the ultimate package. He can punch, he can wrestle, he can perform exceptional feats that often defy the human body. As the film sets him out to be, he is the best and everyone else pails in comparison.
Croce follows Silva and the various components of his crew around, as he prepares for a career defining fight. Having previously done just about enough to win his last bout, the powers that be in the MMA realm have blacklisted Silva and are looking to him to entertain once more. Whilst not going into much depth as to the entire process and dictation of this sport and its business-like mannerisms, there are brief indications that the way this is run is more akin to WWE than anything else. Fights are set up so as to make an already raucous audience more raucous, and from afar, there looks to be little emphasis on the health and safety of the fighters in the ring. To go back to an aforementioned simile, they are like Cocks in a ring, being forced to attack, attack and attack again, until one comes out utterly victorious, the other slinking back to their respective cage battered, bruised and mortal once more.
However, this is not an exercise in the dubious practices of an organisation, but a very obvious attempt to examine an individual. Croce briefly highlights the family lifestyle of Silva in Brazil in a vain attempt to show off his film as a well rounded and nicely oiled machine, but it’s very superficial. Whereas the family seem very tight and loving, there is a sense that whilst the subject is concerned with his wife and children, that the director is just trying to adhere to the seemingly inexplicable focus of most biographically based documentaries.
Whilst Like Water wavers and wafts around the familial topic, it does sink its teeth nicely into the conflictions of Anderson Silva. Where the film demonstrates and shows the often skewed values of other fighters as they bemoan and insult their opponents, it nicely focuses on the almost understated reaction from Silva towards this process. A process it is as well. Where our eponymous character challenges the way in which others are drawn into vitriolic snapping and barking, the people around him take it for disrespect. It’s not the most in-depth of analyses but it does make for a somewhat intriguing insight, even if not explored extensively.
For all its parts, whether bulky or frail, this film is designed to be about a man who the film dictates as being a genius on the mat. It does beg the question therefore as to whether this really needed to be made in the first place. If there is no angle other than to show the inherent positives of Silva, then why should we immerse ourselves in a painting brushed with conventional and traditional lines? It’s a labour of love, that much is obvious, but it’s not a work that wants to present its subject in any light other than a positive one. Unfortunately, because of that approach, there’s very little to actually take from the film that we didn’t know beforehand.
Croce portrays Anderson Silva as an athlete of great worth. He does this because you don’t have to really do a lot to maintain that opinion; this is someone who has the trophies and talent to further posture said point. Men of such stature are often difficult to comprehend. After all, they possess skill that belies and evades the rest of us. Nevertheless, the potential to delve and dig into the psyche of these figures is what an audience wants. They want to find and discover more than the physicality of the fighter; the real interest lies in that which you can only unveil when you scratch a touch beneath the surface of an individual, and, regrettably, Croce seems to have no intentions of doing so with Anderson Silva.