Friday, September 29, 2023

The New Boy: Politically, Spiritually and Religiously Australian

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“The New Boy” is a luminous work of art, cultural crossroads, faith, and magical realism.

During WWII, two Australian military officers captured an Aboriginal child fighting ferociously for freedom in the plains. They turn him to a nuns-run monastery in the middle of only God knows where they wanted to “westernize” him. In the remote facility, children were prepared to be incorporated into the workforce and produce goods for the international conflict.

Asan Reid plays extraordinarily well as “The New Boy.”

Newcomer Asan Reid plays extraordinarily well as “the boy with no name.” On the farm, everybody calls him New Boy. 

Even if no one trusts him, his noble inner force is ready to do good, including those who look at him differently and bully him. 

New Boy is spiritually connected to the world, to the land, and to all the creatures of the animal kingdom.

Sister Eileen is interconnected to the mystical side of the story. She is a liberal and unorthodox Catholic nun head of the convent. She is righteous and well-organized. Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett delivers an extraordinary performance as the spiritual leader of the peculiar and fascinating place. Her participation contains an extensive range of emotions, from leadership to vulnerability.

As this unique magical tale unfolds, the perfectly determined characters’ arc reflects the archetype and the plot. Their natural evolution and internal conflict, obsessions, goals, and adversities are easy to follow. 

The magic possessed by New Boy enlightens the story. The religious elements, for some, are symbols of inspiration, and for others, oppression, which makes anyone feel uneasy by the confrontation of both cultures visually and politically speaking.

“The New Boy” has a terrific cast, including Deborah Mailman as sweet Sister Mom and Wayne Blair as George, in addition to Cate Blanchett’s lead and Asan Reid as the new boy.

Other outstanding works where children are deployed from their natural environment and placed in strange places where they suffer distress and isolation are, last year, Oscar nominee narrative short produced by Alice Rohrwacher and Alfonso Cuarón “Le pupulle,” “Cándida” written by Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, Oscar nominee Nicaraguan feature “Alsino and the Condor.” “The Painted Bird” is about a Jewish kid roaming by himself in the middle of the conflict zone during WWII. “Tigers are not Afraid” is a Mexican feature where orphan children from the war on drugs battle for survival in a dystopian land. New Zealand’s internationally successful road movie “Hunting for the Wilderpeople is a comedy directed by Taika Waititi in which a troubled kid runs into the wild with his step-grandfather.

The director and cinematographer, Warwick Thornton (DP on “September of Shiraz,” “Samson & Delilah,” “Sweet Country”), was in charge of photographing “The New Boy” as well. 

Warwick Thornton presents a sumptuous and stunning visual work with vast, breathable landscapes and dramatic interiors. Chiaroscuros accentuate religious motives, giving the proper lighting balance to this remarkable project based on the director’s childhood experience.

“The New Boy” was shot in South Australia, in the same region where Cate Blanchett started acting in the 1996 Australian movie “Parklands,” produced by her husband Andrew Upton. Twenty-five years later, Cate returns to her homeland and stars in this new period drama produced by Dirty Films, her and her husband’s production company.

A difference between the 1994 French film “Little Indian, Big City” and the 1997 American remake “Jungle to Jungle,” “The New Boy” maintains the purity of the boy’s nature until his soul gets corrupted by the religiosity of a baptism in the Catholic faith. The magical realism presented in the film is more intrinsic than in 2015, “Little Boy” by Alejandro Monteverde (“Sound of Freedom”).

“The New Boy” adds voices of diversity and inclusion, as in many other essential Australian projects. The country tries to amend its colonial past with the aboriginal people to show an image of a harmonious blend of cultures worldwide.

Padre Pio: Shia LaBeouf Internal Transformation


Festival in LA ©2023

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 original drama is inspiring and moving, 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 his provocative personality, feminine touches, high respect for other wrestlers, and devoted admiration for El Hijo del Santo.

At the highest peak of his career, Gael García Bernal flawlessly performed the real life of the iconic wrestler with extraordinary physicality and excellent intuition.

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” (bad and good guys). 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 one day 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 spectacular theatrical entry for the rookie. 

Cassandro 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), in Mexico City. Cassandro will continue his fight, ascending to the top and then hitting rock bottom.

Cassandro’s signature move is a flying jump.

The film Idiosyncrasy has no boundaries. Crossing the border back and forth, on a daily basis, through the international bridge in El Paso, Texas, seems normal for locals. 

Cassandro’s mother compassionately tells him to give water to the immigrants crossing the border through their backyard—you never know if they will 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 bravely 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, reminding 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, pop megastar 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. In Hollywood, many companies divide their working areas into English or Spanish-speaking divisions – with nothing in the middle to work for the bilingual audience with bilingualtalent. It is challenging to approach either group in a divided and competitive industry that sells the projects globally.

Cassandro, The Exótico
French documentary "Cassandro, The Exótico." Available on Tubi.

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 inside and outside by training others to continue fighting in the ring.

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

“Cassandro” is highly entertaining for the ones who like fights, enjoy queer movies, and genuinely love good cinema.

Cassandro and Gael Garcia, Sundance Film Festival 2023.


Festival in LA ©2023

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Passages: A Very Sui Generis Love Affair in Paris

By José Alberto Hermosillo

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

“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.

The eternal triangle scenario centers naturally 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 steamy relationship with Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), an elementary school teacher, who falls for him carelessly. 

In a short period, Tomas's intellectual husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw), witnesses how Tomas is going into 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 who has performed excellently 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” has intricate relationships and playfulness similar to Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Dreamers.” The modernity of Nadav Lapid’s storytelling in “Synonyms” elevates Sachs’s 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 large 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 are superbly colored. On the couple’s living room wall hangs the iconic poster of the 2019 Rachel Mason Emmy nominee LGBTQ documentary The Circus of Books. It is festive and refers to Tomas’ passion for fine print 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 y the film can be, there is a time for reflection on the direction our society is taking. In times of solitude, moving on from a long-term relationship is complicated, mostly when the people they trust and love are not supportive. Therefore, it is worth our time to watch one of the best films of the year that contains good production value, perfect direction, and terrific actors transmitting their emissions to the public. 


Festival in LA ©2023