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. Like Hollywood, many companies divide their working areas into English or Spanish-speaking areas – 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." 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

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