Cassandro Review

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Contemporary lucha libre, like other sports, is alive with expectations and presumptions of the society in which it exists. In this ode to Joy Cassandro, the subject of such societal force happens to be Mexican culture’s pervasive machismo – the professional wrestler who challenged conventional wisdom by donning lipstick, spandex, and a whole lot of persistence.

Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal) from El Paso, Texas is an openly gay young man trying to break into early 1990s luchador business. Saúl’s colleagues are aware that he is gay hence keeping him at bay through homophobic jokes in dressing rooms. They tell Saúl he should wrestle as an exótico, a kind of gay character who dresses in women’s clothes, minces around the ring and always gets beaten up by the hunky straight heroes. It reflects how this society usually treats homosexuals: as some type of joke or punching bag whose mere existence can only be tolerated and nothing more than that. However, Saúl wants more than just being tolerated; he wants to win.

As a result he changes his coach to Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez) who identifies herself as part of LGBTQ+ community. Interacting with Sabrina and her friends helps Saul loosen up a little bit so that he starts working on a new character for himself. Formerly known as generic masked jobber called El Topo, Saul becomes Cassandro ‘the Exotic’. Unlike other wrestlers who wear make-up and pose homoerotically towards their opponents during matches but nevertheless never get cheered for; this one does seem like someone to cheer for. The audience takes time but they finally do it and ever since then Lucha Libre is not the same again.

Neither is Saul anymore after all these changes take place. In the opening scenes Bernal portrays him like this: timid and apologetic. He is constantly bowing inwards, his head and shoulders slumped down with that submissive smile that tries not to provoke any anger from anybody through being so deferential. However, as Cassandro’s popularity starts soaring Saúl also begins changing his body language; he remains gentle and modest but he becomes conscious of walking erect with his chest thrown out, meeting the gazes of macho men in the audience: “this is me, take it or leave it”. Even if Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), his married lover who is also a luchador ashamed to be seen with him publicly, had not been there he would never have summoned up the courage to issue an ultimatum to him.

This new self-assurance takes Saul all the way to Mexico City where a match against the legendary El Hijo de Santo (playing himself) confirms his status a genuine wrestler. Other wrestlers whisper about Saul while telling him not to challenge those hallowed traditions in lucha libre too much. But these resentments are never shown boiling over into onscreen violence at any point. Saúl’s flirtation with Felipe (Bad Bunny), who works for his manager, does not lead to anything dangerous either. Instead, Cassandro accentuates the positive side of this journey towards fame by sketching it out as a swift and relatively frictionless path that was fit for Saúl/Cassandro, “the Liberace of lucha libre”. It even omits some parts of real-life Armendáriz like when he fought drug addiction (shown here as a few bumps in a club bathroom) and depression issues.

Instead, what sets Cassandro apart is that it relies on the relationship between Saul’s mother – Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa) and his father who was also married but gave scanty recognition to his son or his child’s mothe. Although there is no insinuation of any otherness in the plot, as it is in most films with gay themes which emphasize traumatic episodes, it is combined with traditionalism of the sports film genre like pump up montages to keep its message to Saul’s final victory portrayed by just one sound in this movie.

However, Bernal is really likable in this part, an outcome that only achieves this modest ambition of Cassando. The filmmaker Roger Ross Williams is a renowned documenter who has used realistic techniques when creating Saúl’s world except for its colorful luchadores or wrestling characters. This can be achieved through making a campy movie set at such a place and time as well. But instead of that, Cassando tells another tale altogether- a story about outer flamboyance and inner journey towards quiet strength that will surprise viewers because just like Examining Cassandro himself it proves to be iconoclastic even though not very much so.


Cassandro blends together an inspirational story about sport with naturalistic drama for many of Gall Riches’ tragic LGBTQ+ biopics clichés. It is set within the vibrant atmosphere of Mexican citizen wrestling; however, its targets are limited, while the lead character appears to be charismatic because he is portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal, playing this wrestling star known as “The Liberace” from Lucha libre.”

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