By – Gareth Jones
For fans of Gael Garcia Bernal, wrestling, queer icons
I learned a great deal from my viewing of Cassandro. I had seen pictures of the “exotico” wrestler from Mexico and knew that he was an important figure in both the queer and wrestling worlds. However, this film gave me an insight into his life and the world of luchadors. It is a fascinating and entertaining biopic, one that is well-deserved for a living legend.
Cassandro is the stage name for Saúl Armendáriz, who rose to prominence in the early 1990’s. He is important because he turned the tables on how exoticos were portrayed in wrestling. Up until his time, they were always the villains, leading to homophobia and other negative stereotypes. Cassandro countered this by leaning into these elements but then turning them into positives and convincing the powers of the wrestling world that this was a way to advance the world of wrestling. As a gay man himself, this is an even more powerful statement.
Cassandro is portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal, who does a tremendous job with the physicality of the role. We have to believe that he is capable of the unbelievable wrestling moves and he is fully up to the challenge. He is equally adept at portraying the deep love that Saúl Armendáriz had for his mother, as helping her is one of the key motivators for him in his advancing into the world of wrestling. Bernal has had an almost impeccable career from his early films with Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu to his own directorial film. He brings an energy and pathos to each role giving audiences multiple ways of connecting to often challenging individuals. Even now, as he gets closer to 50, he retains a youthful appearance and enthusiasm that gives him the ability to play characters from young to old. He did this beautifully in this career spanning performance as Cassandro.
The film is directed by Roger Ross Williams, who is traditionally known as a documentary filmmaker including such films as God Love Uganda, Life,Animated, and most recently Love to Love You, Donna Summer. He brings this documentary eye to this film, making an impressive move to a narrative biopic.
Yes, this is also the film that has Bad Bunny in a small role, although he is used quite substantially in the marketing of the film. It is still significant that he would choose this as a role to challenge perceptions of him and his music. Cassandro and those he has inspired have continued the needed examination of the machismo of Mexico and its wrestling. The same is needed for American wrestling. Wrestling is for everyone.
Go see it at the Festival de Cine at Sidewalk! For free Oct. 2, 3, and 4.
Written by: Gareth Jones
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