Sports dramas are always fun — the underdog always wins and we all love that. The story of Saúl Armendáriz, the gay wrestler in the ‘80s who broke into the macho world of Mexican professional wrestling, Lucha Libre, was one waiting to be told. And Gael García Bernal, who we last saw as the nasty man getting his just desserts from Jennifer Lopez in The Mother is just the man to do it.
Cassandro (English and Spanish)
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla De La Rosa, Joaquín Cosío, Raúl Castillo, El Hijo del Santo, Bad Bunny
Runtime: 107 minutes
Storyline: The story of Saúl Armendáriz, the gay wrestler, who as Cassandro broke into the male-dominated world of wrestling
Saúl (Bernal) lives with his mother, Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), in El Paso, Texas, helping her with mending the clothes she launders. He goes across the border to Mexico to participate in Lucha Libre. He participates as El Topo till he meets Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), a trainer, who suggests he fight as an exótico, a wrestler who fights in drag.
While there have been exóticos since the 1940s, adding colour with their flamboyant costumes and mannerisms, it was not supposed to reflect their sexuality outside of the ring. Going off script, Saúl decides to fight to win as an exótico. He goes to the ring in Mexico City against the famous El Hijo del Santo (playing himself), the son of El Santo, a Mexican folk hero and professional wrestler. Saúl chooses the stage name of Cassandro, from a telenovela his mum likes. The historic match creates opportunities of Saúl and also opens a path for gay wrestlers.
There is much to like about Cassandro starting with Bernal’s performance, which is easily his best till now. He embodies Saúl from the flourishes of costume and make-up to his sensitivity, humour and passion. His relationship with his mother, who brought him up alone after his father deserted them, is heartwarming.
Saúl does not see himself as a victim. He matter-of-factly tells Sabrina that when he came out at the age of 15, his father (who was married with children) just stopped visiting Jocasta and him. His relationship with Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), a married man, is a source of great joy, and sorrow, as Gerardo is not willing to publicly acknowledge Saúl.
While the film takes some liberties with the facts, compresses timelines and chooses to stay on the bright side with no mentions of Saúl’s suicide attempt before the big match and skimming over the details of his drug habit, Cassandro is a beautiful movie experience.
It is fun for the costumes, the drama, the insight into the popular world of Lucha Libre as well as a slice of the life of the man who turned that macho space upside down.
Cassandro is currently streaming on Prime Video