In his lifetime, Manolete, the legendary bullfighter, caused a stir living with his exuberant left-wing mistress beneath the disapproving glare of staunchly Catholic, 1940s Spain. Manolete, a film about this romance starring Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz, is raising eyebrows again – this time among the anti-bullfighting camp.
After a three-year delay, the €20m (£18m) British-Spanish production is expected to be released this week in Paris – to the outrage of animal rights activists.
"It is inadmissible to release a film in which the hero is a matador," said the Alliance Anticorrida, a French anti-bullfighting group, in a message to its 20,000 members. "If they are properly informed, a great number of spectators will avoid this new film."
The film, by the Dutch director Menno Meyjes, was supposed to be released as early as 2007, but has been beset with production delays, debts and a ballooning budget. Bullfighting scenes were reportedly shot without using real animals, which inflated the cost.
"Let's thank Lola Films for making a compassionate choice for bulls," said the US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
In the film, a sombre Adrien Brody plays the matador from Cordoba enamoured with Penelope Cruz's bonne vivante Mexican actress, Lupe Sino, who pines for a final glimpse of her lover after he is gored to death by the bull Islero in 1947.
The film's producers and distributors have tried to reassure activists that the film – peppered with phrases like "I'm just your mistress; death is your wife" – is a story about love not killing. But the ever-growing anti-bullfighting movement appears unmoved. "It is forgetting a bit too quickly the images of Adrien Brody, his face and hands stained with blood in his torero costume," the Alliance Anticorrida said.