A radiant documentary with the power to send Latinos into a frenzy of uplifting nostalgia, Argentine-American filmmaker Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch’s “Mucho Mucho Amor” thoroughly and lovingly eulogizes revered Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, in a film that mixes celebrity cameos and heart-to-heart chats with the late icon himself.
One of the few true pan-Latino figures, ageless Mercado reached millions of households across the United States, as well as throughout Latin America (including Portuguese-speaking Brazil), and even Europe for decades on TV, radio, and print media.
Entire families hung on his every word and shushed one another to hear what he had to say about their respective futures. For those of us who interacted with his image every day, during his long stint on Univision’s “Primer Impacto” or his solo show, that’s a shared memory that evokes the comfort of familiarity. If Walter Mercado was on, you’d listen. Leaning repeatedly on that resonantly accurate piece of anecdotal information from varied famous sources helps the co-directors further stress how ubiquitous his presence was.
Horoscopes delivered with an authoritative and theatrical flair were just part of his larger-than-life magnetism. Outfits gleaming with flamboyant fabulousness and the unwavering positivity of his message of love and peace, reflected in his signature farewell that gives the film its title, completed a mesmerizing persona in an astral league all of his own.
Delightful animated sequences of tarot cards segment the doc as through it were a reading of Mercado’s own destiny in retrospect, starting with the divine incident that in 1930s Ponce, Puerto Rico, that revealed the young boy’s uniqueness. Interviewed at home, an elderly Mercado, still exuding glamour despite the toll time has taken on his mortal body, enthusiastically reminisces on his past glory and promises there’s more to come. His certainty is convincing.
“To be different is a gift, to be ordinary is common,” Mercado recalled his mother instilling in him. A natural-born performer, he was a dancer, a stage actor, and then a telenovela cast member before his gift as an emissary of the stars sent him on the path to small-screen immortality.
Necessary biographical context aside, Costantini (“Science Fair”) and Tabsch (“The Last Resort”) deftly inquire about less pleasant subjects, such as psychic scams in his name or the legal battle with former associate Guillermo Bakula, who declares himself remorseless, over the fortuneteller’s name and likeness, which he crossed over into the English-speaking market. On brand, Mercado speaks no ill of anyone, though those in his inner circle — like confidant Willy Acosta, his right-hand and “also the left one” as he would say — do verbalize their indignation.
Valiantly, Mercado also spent a lifetime challenging established parameters on gender and sexuality, not outspokenly but via the feminine aura of his polished presentation. “Embraced and othered” by a homophobic and religious culture, he was a queer pioneer, and a referent for non-binary identity; even if he never officially came out, his existence validated that of many others.
When Mercado speaks to the camera, he is fearless, and he is able to sincerely spread goodwill, because he’s loved himself enough to mitigate the hurtful judgments from the outside. He preached his non-denominational beliefs by example.
A lucid editing job, courtesy of Tom Maroney and Carlos David Rivera, seamlessly strings together the large array of topics that comprise the personal history and public legacy of Mercado, including how Latino millennials have reclaimed him as a cultural emblem. They do so both with archival footage and thoughtful and quotidian shots of the aging hero that let the movie breathe and prevent it from ever resembling a checklist.
From Eugenio Derbez, a Virgo, whose impression of Mercado — named Julio Esteban — became one of the Mexican comedian’s most popular characters, to acclaimed journalist Jorge Ramos, a skeptical Pisces, several famed personalities proclaim their appreciation. However, it’s Mercado’s encounter with Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Capricorn, that instantly melts hearts. Its beauty resides in that this wasn’t a meeting between two Boricua titans, but an overwhelmed admirer in the presence of a legend he associates with grandma’s affection more so than with spiritual advice.
Believing in Mercado, as Costantini and Tabsch make clear, had little to do with relying in his practice as a feasible predictor for what’s to come, and more with having a champion that could persuade you to have hope for a new day. Even if the predictions didn’t come true, what wasn’t false was the encouragement that came with it. So to no one’s surprise, when the HistoryMiami Museum arranges an exhibit celebrating 50 years since Mercado’s first broadcast in August 1969, the halls were flooded with well-wishers who came to see him honored. Each bedazzled cape on display was, obviously, adorned not with mere sequins but his rarified magic.
Sure to break the Latino internet the second it starts streaming on Netflix in Summer 2020, as people gather one more time around a screen to get a dose or Walter Mercado’s zingers and eternal mysticism, “Mucho Mucho Amor” is a tribute as inspired and jubilant as its majestic subject, a true original, who “used to be a star and now is a constellation.”