Ivan Thompson views matchmaking in much the same way he views selling horses.
"Conformation is important," he says in "Cowboy del Amor." "And so is temperament."
Spoken like a true cowboy.
Thompson, who calls himself the "Cowboy Cupid," is someone it would be easy to despise if he weren't so disarmingly likable. After all, he deals in women. Mexican women, whom he introduces to U.S. men (usually middle-age or older) who are looking for wives.
"Cowboy Del Amor" is nonfiction, and the going rate to meet a prospective wife is $3,000.
That said, it would be easy to turn Thompson into a joke (and no doubt there's a fiction comedy waiting to be made there) if Michele Ohayon had made a less nuanced film. Instead, she works through Thompson's quirks to show his contradictions and what his business says about U.S. and Mexican cultures.
Start off by putting aside any notions of political correctness. Thompson has none of that anyway, but he has a ton of charm. In fact, that's what carries the film, with his down-home asides interweaved with footage of three of his matchmaking attempts.
Ohayon captures a Thompson who espouses old-fashioned virtues ("I try never to let 'em get confused about having sex and picking a wife -- I don't want to insult the women") alongside old-fashioned ideas about women's roles (he seems to have problems with assertiveness and women's "change of life," whatever he means by that).
She presents a Thompson who, love him or hate him, has to be taken as he is. But she also captures a man who sets up marriages even as he has been divorced three times (twice with the same Mexican wife) and who is single as the film is made. In his world, marriage is as much transaction as relationship, and he has been in the red lately.
Without getting too serious about it, she uses the cowboy and his couples to cast a light on how some middle-aged U.S. men think about women and marriage, and how some Mexican women view Mexican men (if there's a group that can be justifiably insulted by "Cowboy del Amor," it's the latter).
"Cowboy del Amor" has been on the festival circuit for the past year and is only now getting wider distribution via the Emerging Cinema chain.
Its maker has a best documentary feature nomination ("Colors Straight Up" in 1997, on an arts program for inner city kids).
There are places she could have dug deeper. Why, for instance, do some of the seemingly prosperous Mexican women (one owns her own home; another is a doctor) decide to involve themselves in this? And what is the larger meaning of the fact that it's inevitably older men and younger women who are involved.
But that would have been a different film, a little less sweet and a little less human.
"Cowboy del Amor"
Documentary starring Ivan Thompson. Not rated. Opens Wednesday at Emerging Cinemas in Market Arcade Film and Arts Centre.