Cassandro – 70%
Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 1,637 / 5,229
The ubiquitous Gael García Bernal is back as the groundbreaking luchador phenomenon, “Cassandro.” The Amazon Studios’ film takes a focused approach to the biopic, with director Roger Ross Williams telling the story of a specific period in Saúl’s life. We are introduced to Saúl as a working class young man, living with his mother in El Paso and performing at night as the masked luchador “El Topo.” Saúl is a petite man and is often cast as the “runt” in matches with larger, more imposing wrestlers. He longs for the love of the crowd.
Outside of the ring Saúl helps his mother mend clothes. Saúl is the child of an affair; his father’s second family and abandoned them entirely when Saúl came out as gay. We are introduced to the concept of the Exótico in luchador wrestling. The Exótico is a flamboyant male wrestler who dresses in traditionally-feminine costumes. They always lose, the heel to the macho hero. Williams shows us how vehement the hatred is in the audience for the Exótico, as boos rain down and homophobic slurs are slung throughout the arenas.
Williams challenges us to see how even in our most frivolous entertainments we seek to affirm the social order. The Exótico openly flaunts an alternative to the established views of masculinity and femininity, competing in combat with societal conventions. Saúl decides he wants to be an Exótico who wins. Williams’ sports film about a professional wrestler becomes more than that, as the training montages, physical transformations, and full emergence of Saúl’s new “Cassandro” persona turns seemingly-vicious crowds into ardent supporters. This is not another tale of the individual pursuit of the American dream, but these sequences become metaphors for the public reconstruction of self that many in marginalized communities engage in to find acceptance in mainstream society.
Bernal’s performance is amazing, and he brings a silent depth to Saúl. He is not merely a charming, sad, longing, happy, flamboyant, or quiet character; as a full human, he is all of them. Saúl contemplates, performs, desires, loves, seeks acceptance, and finds his own way in a life that seeks to contain him. We see it all in Bernal as he takes us on Saúl’s journey to Cassandro.