I was curious about Cassandro from the trailers. Living in Arizona, I’ve heard about Luchador and I always liked the idea of the spectacle of it all. What made me curious about Cassandro was wondering how he became a Luchador and whether the film would be as exciting as the trailers appeared. I was also curious to see Gael Garcia Bernal in a film. After watching the movie, I found the life of Saúl Armendáriz (Cassandro) fascinating, his passion for Luchador infectious and the film full of emotional ups and downs that show why he is an influential icon.
In “Cassandro” a biographical drama film directed by Roger Ross Williams in his narrative directorial debut from a screenplay written by Ross Williams and David Teague. The film focuses on queer icon Saúl Armendáriz also known as the exotico luchador Cassandro played by Gael Garcia Bernal. The film focuses on his early wrestling, his relationship with his mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), his coach Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), and lover Gerardo (Raúl Castillo) as well as the lack of his father in his life. It also details his rise to fame as he embraces the name Cassandro and the complexities of being a gay icon in the masculine world of Luchador. He upends not just the macho wrestling world, but also his own life.
I found the film fascinating, a wild and entertaining film that reveals a passionate man who rises to the top of the macho wrestling world by embracing the stereotypes of being gay. One of the elements I loved the most was how the story slowly reveals who Saúl Armendáriz is not just in his daily life but as Cassandro. Saúl is frustrated by the lack of theater in his fights as a runt and doesn’t like constantly losing. When he meets his coach, Sabrina, he decides to take a risk and fight as an exotico. He also meets a promoter Lorenzo (Joaquín Cosío) and his nephew Felipe (Bad Bunny) who help him get access to better fights. The story tells Saúl’s story with authenticity. He doesn’t just jump into the ring and is able to win fights. The story shows just how hard he worked to better himself and how he used the ideas to build a character that would entertain audiences.
The fights are fantastic to watch. The film shows that Cassandro is highly skilled, fast and stronger than he looks. There is an element of entertainment to the fights as well, just like in American wrestling. Saúl embraces his character, uses homophobic reactions to his advantage and gets the audience on his side. By building that story and entertainment, he encouraged the promoters to let his character win the fight. But there are a ton of skills in his fighting as well. Those skills are well demonstrated in this movie and the fights feel legendary.
While the fights are fun to watch, it is Saúl’s interactions with his mother Yocasta that add complexity and weight right from the beginning. They have a bond but she also never lets him forget that his father no longer wants to be around them since Saúl came out as gay. In addition to the relationship with his mother, the film also delves into his relationship with Gerardo who is another luchador El Comadante. There is beauty and passion between the two men but Gerardo is also married with children, just as Saúl’s father was, creating a conflict between the pair. I also love the way the film develops the friendship between Saúl and Sabrina. Even when he seems alone, she stands by his side. And the film beautifully expresses what an influential icon Saúl becomes in the world of wrestling, through hard work and his ability to entertain.
The acting is phenomenal in the film. Gael Garcia Bernal is emotional, complex and driven as Saúl (Cassandro). He portrays Saúl as emotional, passionate and creative as well as performing the fighting scenes with finesse and skill. His dynamic with Perla De La Rosa who plays Yocasta is intense and emotional. Their relationship as mother and son is full of emotional ups and downs as Yocasta loves her son but struggles with the loss of his father, her lover. The actress does a wonderful job with the complex performance. Roberta Colindrez as Sabrina also has a lovely chemistry with Gael Garcia Bernal. The friendship between the pair feels natural and real. Roberta Colindrez delivers a performance that is warm and authentic. Finally the chemistry between Raúl Castillo and Gael Garcia Bernal as lovers is intense and complex. Both men are passionate in their performances and believable as lovers. As Lorenzo and Felipe, Joaquín Cosío and Bad Bunny are believable and skilled in their performances.
What slows the film for me is the pace of the film. It is slow and meanders, especially at the beginning. The story also chooses to use flashbacks to illustrate Saúl’s relationship with his father which pulls the reader from the main storyline of him becoming Cassandro. While that does help explain some of Saúl’s choices as a wrestler and in life, it also meanders a bit too much. I also felt like it missed some opportunities to reveal more about his later life. The film focuses mostly on the beginning of his career and his development as a queer icon. Still, the film is emotional, entertaining, and shows how much of an influential icon he truly was.
If you love biographical dramas and love Hispanic icons, this is one to enjoy. I love the flamboyant nature of Cassandro, the complexity of Saúl Armendáriz, his relationships with his friends, his mother and his boyfriend. The fights are incredible displays of skill and entertainment. I found myself wanting to learn much more about the world of the Luchador after watching the movie. I love that this film is full of emotional ups and downs, as Saúl struggles with accepting himself and resolving his feelings over his lack of a relationship with his father. The film explores his life with authenticity and passion.
Rating: 4 out of 5 costumes
Cassandro will be in theaters September 15th and streaming on Amazon Prime on September 22nd