Thursday, September 21, 2023

Cassandro: From a Mexican Wrestler to a Superhero in Drag

  By José Alberto Hermosillo 

Cassandro, movie review

“Cassandro” is one of the best biopics about an openly gay Mexican wrestler ever! (actually, it is the only one). The Film is inspiring, moving, and original, with flashes of shame and glory.

Gael Garcia Bernal as Cassandro, Amazon Prime Video
Gael Garcia Bernal as Cassandro, Amazon Prime Video

Cassandro conquered the masses with feminine touches, high respect for other wrestlers, and devoted admiration for El Hijo del Santo.

At the highest peak of his career, with extraordinary physicality and great intuition, Gael GarcíaBernal flawlessly performed the real-life iconic wrestler "Cassandro."

The film chronicles Saúl Armendáriz’s evolution into Cassandro, a wrestler who battles not only a massive opponent, like Gigántico de Tijuana, comparable to the size of the society who rules for the macho type of fighters in the arena. Of course, his small size, physicality, femininity, and lack of technicality make him always lose, like all the exóticos. Still, we must remember that he is a fighter, not a loser. 

Saúl dreams of becoming a strong wrestler; one day, he may eventually win. He learns about the “exóticos,” a group of male wrestlers dressed in drag with feminine touches. The “exóticos” are now an essential part of the “Lucha Libre” as the “Rudos” and “Técnicos” (the bad and good guys, respectively). The exóticos inspired Saúl Armendáriz to become Cassandro.


Saúl came out when he was thirteen. He and his mother, Yocasta (Perla de la Rosa), have a close and condescending relationship. They dream of owning a big house with a heart-shaped swimming pool, but it is hard for a peasant to escape the barrio.

Lady Anarquía trains him with no money to pay; she will do it for something exchangeable later, such as friendship. They play with the idea of becoming exótico. But he refuses it by saying they don't let exóticos win. The idea of his new name also comes from a telenovela they watch on TV.

The spectacular presentation of Saúl as Cassandro is done under the score of the Spanish version of Gloria Gaynor’s Worldwide hit “I Will Survive/Sobreviviré,” a theatrical entry for the rookie. He imprints his magical moves in the ring, always trying to win, even to Gigántico. Other battles will come, including the most memorable with El Hijo del Santo (The son of the legendary Mexican wrestler, producer, and movie star El Santo). Cassandro will continue his fight to ascend to the top and then hit rock bottom.

Cassandro's signature move is a flying jump.

The film Idiosyncrasy has no boundaries. Crossing the border and driving through the international bridge back and forth seems normal for locals. In El Paso, Texas, his mother compassionately tells him to give water to the immigrants crossing through their backyard; you never know if they must be thirsty and hungry or bring little children.

Roger Ross Williams & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2016

The Award-winning documentarian Roger Ross Williams (“Love to Love You Baby,” “The Apollo”) embodies the Latino culture as one of his own, making "Cassandro" his first narrative feature. In 2016, Ross Williams led the Oscar-nominated documentary “Life, Animated,” where he vividly chronicles the life of an autistic boy who communicates through Disney drawings. In “Cassandro,” Ross Williams presents the different subcultures of Latino, Mexican, Chicano, LGBTQ, and Macho Wrestling communities with high respect and understanding.

Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos 

The music score by Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos (“The Equalizer 3,” “Flamin’ Hot,” “Human Capital,” and “Sin Nombre”) is exquisite, languid, and haunting.

The music presented at the end credits has a heroic rhythm that stays with us for some time to remind us about the life and legacy of the now legend “Cassandro,” the exótico.

Bad Bunny & Gael García Bernal in "Cassandro."
Bad Bunny & Gael García Bernal in "Cassandro."

A big shoutout to casting director Luis Rosales to place together such an impressive international cast: Gael García Bernal, megastar pop star Bad Bunny (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio), El Hijo del Santo, Joaquín Cosio, Perla de la Rosa, Roberta Colindrez, Julieta Ortiz, Leonardo Alonso, Raúl Castillo, and real-life wrestlers. 

It was an enormous job to cast talent for both sides of the border, requiring some skills and willingness to get things done right in both languages. Like Hollywood, many companies divide their working areas into English or Spanish-speaking – with nothing in the middle to work for bilingual people. It is challenging to approach either group with such a division in an industry that sells its projects globally.

Cassandro, The Exótico
French documentary "Cassandro, The Exótico."

The 2018 French documentary about the life of the wrestler born in Ciudad Juárez and residing in El Paso, Texas, “Cassandro, the Exótico!” by Marie Losier, has more understanding of the goals and the tremendous success of the epic fighter. The star of the gender-bending cross-dressing Mexican wrestler states that he does not like to be labeled as the "gay exótico" for the way he dresses or for kissing his opponents in the fights. Everything is part of the amusement and well-choreographed show. He is determined to demonstrate his talent and professional skills in the ring and outside, training others to continue faith.

As we dig deeply into the story and learn more about this “sui generis” character, Gael Garcia’s performance in the ring kicking and flying is phenomenal, almost like watching the real Cassandro in his epic fights.

Overall, “Cassandro” is highly entertaining for people who like fights or enjoy queer movies and for everyone who genuinely loves good cinema.

Cassandro and Gael Garcia, Sundance Film Festival 2023.


Festival in LA ©2023

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Passages: A Very Sui Generis Affair in Paris

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“Passages” is a refreshing and sophisticated new French/German Queer drama attempting to explore the laws of attraction, arousal, behavior, and human sexuality without bounds in this modern love story triangle.


In times of diversity and inclusion, “Passages” is a successful attempt for Queer Cinema to crossover into the mainstream media. 

The story naturally centers on a same-sex couple struggling over an infidelity one of them had with a woman. The problem is that the suitor likes exploring his bisexuality further with the opposite sex and wants to keep it that way, but his heart is attached to his husband.

Triggered by his husband's rejection, self-centered German director Tomas Freiburg (Franz Rogowski) falls into an extramarital streamy relationship with Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), an elementary school teacher, who falls for him carelessly. 

In a short period, his intellectual husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw), witnesses how Tomas is going down into a self-destruction mode and how his erratic conduct affects other people’s lives, including their fifteen-year marriage.


Franz Rogowski as Tomas is extraordinary. He plays the perfect antihero of the story as an openly gay film director with enormous emotional baggage.

Rogowski’s charming and even cynical smile and profound gaze transmit the proper emotions to captivate his audience, elements that make the actor continue growing, as good as in his previous performances in “Transit,” “Undide,” “Great Freedom,” and the upcoming “Disco Boy.” With enormous confidence, he conquers the screen as one of the greatest European actors of our time.

His counterpart, British actor Ben Whishaw, is terrific as the dedicated and betrayed husband. His character, Martin, is a low-key graphic artist and owner of a high-end print shop. In the film, his break-up does not prevent him from fooling around with other guys in their social circle. 

Whishaw is a chameleonic actor with excellent performances for almost three decades. His most iconic roles were in the 2006 “Perfume: The Story of a Murder” next to Dustin Hoffman and the British time-period film “Bright Star.”  More recently, he worked in “Paddington,” “Skyfall,” “No Time to Die,” and the Award-winning feminist piece “Women Talking” as the raconteur of the women's struggle.


The questionable concubine Agathe is exquisite, confident, and feminine with traditional French parents. She is a practical woman who does not give importance to her new partner’s lifestyle. Agathe is played by the always sumptuous Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color,” “Les anarchistes,” and “The White Crow”).

Film director Ira Sachs's (“Frankie,” “Love is Strange”) fierce and meticulous method of directing actors shows her capability to get the most out of them professionally. In her work, she introduced a new kind of “Teorema,” referring to the type of sexuality presented in the 1968 Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Italian Cult Classic "Theorem." "Passages" gives similar intricate relationships and playfulness to Bernardo Bertolucci's “Dreamers.” The modernity of the storytelling of Nadav Lapid in “Synonyms” elevates Sachs’ work to a new and profound level of understanding human behavior.

The luxurious cinematography enhances the sharp colors, and close imagery focuses on the subjects, which is the responsibility of talented Josée Deshaies (“Lamb,” “Saint Laurent,” “Curling”). It has an effervescent atmosphere and creates an uneasy feeling of wonder and anxiety in the spectator.

A big shout out to the costume department for showing French fashion on a high scale. Every character is dressed according to their personality, leaving no room to wonder who is who in the story.


The set design department did a fabulous job choosing those unknown locations in Paris. The interior design, furniture, and accessories colors are superb. On the couple’s living room wall hangs the iconic poster of the 2019 Rachel Mason Emmy nominee LGBTQ documentary “The Circus of Books,” which is festive and refers to Tomas' passion for fine prints and the couple's happiness when they were together.

“Passages” is a freshly made, entirely original film full of surprises, making it impossible to know where every scene will take you next.

Besides how strident and sexually explicit the film can be, there is a time for reflection on the direction our society is taking us. In times of solitude, moving on from a long-term relationship is complicated, mostly when the people they trust and love are not supportive. 


Festival in LA ©2023

Saturday, September 9, 2023

The Eternal Memory: An Indelible Story of Love and Alzheimer's

 By José Alberto Hermosillo

The Eternal Memory poster

“The Eternal Memory” is this year's most affectionate, endearing, and absorbing documentary. A total eye-opening experience! 

After the success of “The Mole Agent,” Academy Award-nominee Chilean documentarian Maite Alberdi tackles another concerning and troubling ailment of our elderly population. In her most recent work, “The Eternal Memory,” she vividly displays the progression of Alzheimer's disease with her personal, observational, and moody style.

Augusto and Paulina. "The Eternal Memory."
"Memoria infinita," in Spanish, unfolds in the most intimate and affecting possible way the lives of the characters’ interaction in their daily routine and natural habitat, including their fear that the memory will start fading one day.
The lineal love story follows Augusto and Paulina, a Chilean couple who have been together for 25 years and plan to stay that way until death separates them.
Augusto Góngora was a respected Award-winning author, journalist, and broadcaster who lost his memory due to Alzheimer's. But he always remembers something: his love for his devoted wife, Paulina.
Paulina Urrutia is a theater actress, an elected public official, and an affectionate caregiver. The news of Augusto’s sickness was devastating, mainly when you have to realize someone is here, but the memories are not. The critical decisions, such as going to the hospital, staying in a nursing home, continuing on life support, or other essential family matters, must be taken collectively, including Augusto’s sons from his previous marriage.
During the Covid shutdown, they ended up isolated in their house, and the news on the radio announcing the number of people dead was frightening and hard to understand for the 60-year-old. Still, those numbers mean nothing compared to the devastating number of people who lost a loved one. Augusto's memory tried to make sense of those numbers as Paulina explained the meaning and ramifications of those numbers.
Augusto and Paulina contemplating the eclipse. "The Eternal Memory."
As the sickness progressed gradually, Augusto left all his jobs. He was very active when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He was the head of Chile’s Cultural Affairs for the National TV Department (TVN). Paulina had to continue working in theater and even in public TV to generate a source of income for their household. At one point, she had to bring Augusto to work, where he was pleased to talk to his former colleagues. She was not the only one taking care of him. It was the entire community, the barrio, who took care of him and other people with special needs. His most significant decline was during the pandemic. People's isolation is harmful.
The post-production process could have been smoother, Maite remembers. While trying to finish editing the story, almost at the end, Paulina found in their basement an archive of invaluable tapes with Augusto's shows, interviews, and personal memories, including powerful images of Pinochet's dictatorship a few decades back and other vital photos with the work he did for former elected President Michelle Bachelet. According to the director, those materials were to enrich the project and must be added to the final cut. The recently found footage chronicling Chile's internal and external movements and its transition from Pinochet’s dictatorship to actual democracy gives more meaning to the documentary.
In a Q&A session after one of the first screenings in Santa Monica, California, Paulina said, “Augusto’s sickness ran for almost ten years. It was like death in slow motion.” Still, Augusto's most consequential act was to participate in the making of this transcendental project and preserve their love story forever. She also said that when the idea of making the documentary came to Paulina, she was not convinced to let the film crew interrupt the most intimate moments of their daily lives and show it to the world until she saw the film. It was right after Augusto’s passing in May of 2023. Then, at that pivotal moment, she understood a long-lasting legacy of preserving his memory with this outstanding work of art, which she gratefully and humbly treasured.
Paulina Urrutia, "The Eternal Memory." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023
Paulina Urrutia, "The Eternal Memory," Santa Monica, California. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023
During Covid, Paulina had to learn to use the camera and to record themselves. It ended up being a big gift during the lockdown. Paulina feels sorry for the terrible job she did with shaky and out-of-focus images. Her new job was a source of company during their most lonely moments. It was marvelous to have something to spend their days. She set the camera, pressed play, and let it run all day until she realized the battery was down. But she feels proud of her job and has enormous respect for the patience and dedication of the director.
The idea of making this original story came when documentarian Maite Alberdi read an interview in a magazine regarding a journalist who was on his way to pick up a National Award and developed Alzheimer's disease. His wife, Paulina, cared for him lovingly and compassionately until the end. The director used the same shooting technique in “The Mole Agent.” She spent plenty of time with the characters and the crew to get the subjects used to the cameras in a small environment and make them feel comfortable acting normal as if the crew was not there.
With the music, Maite used some classic song covers from other Latin artists she admired, such as Cuban songwriter Pablo Milanes’ “Eternamente Yolanda.” As the credits rolled with inserts of the couple’s transcendental moments, I felt some questions were left unsolved: his sons rarely appeared on camera, who they were, what they do for a living, and how they helped their father in the last moments. There is a brief moment where we see Augusto in a nursing home, for how long he was there, and so on. Still, the documentary is a powerful tool to help study adult behavior during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
"The Eternal Memory" has similarities with the 2014 South Korean documentary “My Love Don't Cross that River,” which presented an elderly couple who were living together in the isolated mountains of the peninsula until the end of their lives. The same year, Juliane Moore won an Oscar for her powerful performance in the narrative “Still Alice,” which touches in depth on a person losing her memory due to Alzheimer's disease.
Maite Alberdi, "The Eternal Memory." Photo José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023
Maite Alberdi, "The Eternal Memory," Santa Monica, California. Photo José Alberto Hermosillo. 
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023
Maite Alberdi makes documentaries about people she wants to be with, who make her feel joy, happiness, and love. She, as a filmmaker, is looking for love in different situations. She sees everyone with the potential to tell a good story.
The 2023 Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize Award-winner is produced by Rocío Jaude and Oscar winners Juan de Dios Larrain and Pablo Larrain (“A Fantastic Woman”). The couple in this story parallels Chile’s recent history and can be relatable to everyone.
After experiencing loneliness during the pandemic and other illnesses affecting our aging population, a powerful consensus emerged from the panel with Maite and Paulina: “It is our responsibility not to leave elderly people isolated.”
The heartbreaking documentary “The Eternal Memory” is not about someone losing their memory. It is about keeping the memory of the ones we lost. 
Maite Alberdi, "The Eternal Memory" & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Paulina Urrutia, "The Eternal Memory" & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

The Eternal Memory - Official trailer

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