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Cassandro (2023) - Movie Review

Movies & TV

By Steven C.

- Oct 4, 2023

Roger Ross Williams’ film, “Cassandro,” is a cinematic ode to the revolutionary legacy emanating from one of Mexico’s prized traditions, lucha libre, portraying the distinctive, colorful yet somewhat traditional trajectory of an underdog in sports.

The screenplay by Williams along with David Teague, chronicles the ascent of Saúl Armendáriz, a performer in the world of lucha libre. Saúl (Gael García Bernal), abandons his conventional luchador ambitions to embrace the role of an exótico, a male wrestler adopting drag for performances. Inspired by a telenovela, Saúl transforms into Cassandro. He climbs the lucha libre hierarchy with guidance from trainer Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), promoter Lorenzo (Joaquín Cosío), his loving mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), and companion Gerardo (Raúl Castillo).

However, the film, despite being centered on a flamboyant protagonist, leans heavily towards a serious, linear narrative. It underplays the potential theatricality of Cassandro's journey. The audience is yearning for extravagant performances and the timeless battle between good and evil. However, the film offers a gentle, less dramatic rise to the top.

This film, while focused on identity, only skims the surface of Saúl’s multifaceted life. It vaguely touches upon his strained family relations, his identity struggles as a Mexican American, and the stark reluctance to accept from both cultures. The film missed an opportunity to delve deeper into his cross-cultural existence and how it forms a crucial aspect of his story.

Nevertheless, Williams does navigate through Saúl’s brave revelation of his sexuality during a time when homosexuality was frowned upon in such masculine-dominated sports, with him being subject to derision and homophobic comments. Cassandro, Saúl's alter ego, with his exaggerated femininity, costume, and makeup, signifies a literal and symbolic unmasking. He’s not just the comic relief; he’s there to triumph. He counters his macho adversaries with his exquisite moves. He turns his act into a statement, becoming a crowd favorite even when battling revered masked opponents.

In his role, García Bernal accurately captures the essence of Cassandro. He balances flamboyance and vulnerability, offering an intriguing contrast to his burly competitors. Supporting actors, including Colindrez and Castillo, intensify the out-of-ring sequences with their nuanced performances. They bring tension and emotions to the fore.

Regrettably, certain casting choices, like Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio (Bad Bunny), fail to leave an impact. His presence appears misplaced, adding little to the movie’s dynamism.

Even though “Cassandro” doesn’t claim the champion’s belt, it manages to keep the viewer engaged. Compelling performances and cinematography by Matias Penachino propel the storyline. It includes innovative techniques like a rotating backyard training scene, dramatic visual composition, and varying camera perspectives in the climactic match, rendering a live-event feel.

The film includes a track by Juan Gabriel, Mexico's musical icon, known for his elusive stance on his sexuality. This echoes Cassandro’s own bold embrace of his identity, thereby paving the way for future performers to do the same.

To sum up, “Cassandro” is a celebration of a trailblazer in the extravagant world of lucha libre. But, it falls short of fully embracing the theatrical essence of its protagonist’s life. It offers a conventional tale shrouded in missed opportunities for deeper exploration into themes of identity and acceptance. Nonetheless, it succeeds in holding the audience's attention through earnest performances and a cascade of emotion and creative visual storytelling.


6 / 10

Roger Ross Williams’ film, “Cassandro,” is a cinematic ode to the revolutionary legacy emanating from one of Mexico’s prized traditions, lucha libre.