Sun. Jan 29th, 2023

Gael García Bernal nails his greatest position in years, giving a efficiency steeped in cheeky humor, resilience and radical self-belief — to not point out some amazingly nimble strikes — as groundbreaking lucha libre wrestler Saúl Armendáriz in Cassandro. Seasoned documentarian Roger Ross Williams, who profiled Armendáriz in 2016 for the Amazon sequence The New Yorker Presents, makes an assured transition into narrative options with this entertaining biopic, which doubles as a beautiful depiction of mother-son love and an exhilarating exploration of fearless queer identification in a macho atmosphere.

Whereas Williams (Life, Animated) and co-screenwriter David Teague (who tailored Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Between the World and Me for HBO) barely fumble the ending, this can be a movie with huge coronary heart, vivid immersion into its culturally particular milieu and celebratory admiration for its flamboyant topic, pictures of whom each out and in of the ring grace the tip credit. It ought to show widespread with each LGBTQ viewers and normal audiences when it begins streaming worldwide on Amazon early this 12 months.


The Backside Line

A punchy little knockout.

Venue: Sundance Movie Competition (Premieres)
Forged: Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla de la Rosa, Joaquín Cosío, Raúl Castillo, El Hijo del Santo, Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Screenwriters: David Teague, Roger Ross Williams

1 hour 49 minutes

Proper off the bat, the director, cinematographer Matías Penachino, manufacturing designer J.C. Molina and costumer Mariestela Fernández present an alluring glimpse into this very specific world of sport as theatrical spectacle, attended by rowdy crowds that assume nothing of yelling homophobic taunts on the luchadors.

That makes Bernal’s Saúl a determine of defiant pleasure because the American-born Mexican swaggers down the streets of border city Ciudad Juárez, the place he repeatedly crosses from El Paso to take part in lucha libre, or freestyle wrestling, bouts. He exhibits no concern for hiding his sexuality, not like his married boyfriend and fellow luchador Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), who fights as El Comandante. We be taught that Saúl got here out at 15, inflicting the estrangement of his non secular father Eduardo (Robert Salas), who had maintained a semi-clandestine relationship together with his mom Yocasta (Perla de la Rosa) regardless of being married.

Seemingly due to his diminutive dimension in comparison with the hulking brutes he goes up in opposition to, Saúl wrestles as El Topo (the mouse). However he’s annoyed by the dearth of poetry in his heavyweight opponents and the rote expectation that he’ll lose every battle, reconfirming the bodily supremacy of the hyper-masculine neanderthal. That modifications when he forges a reference to a brand new coach, Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), identified on the lucha circuit as “Woman Anarquía.” She suggests there’s multiple method to battle with out being the runt, suggesting he strive competing as an “exótico,” or drag wrestler.

Saúl doesn’t take a lot convincing. Drawing inspiration from Mexican actress Verónica Castro, in addition to from his mom’s style for industrial-strength make-up and flashy animal-print outfits, he creates Cassandro, taking his new skilled identify from a favourite telenovela.

From the second Cassandro enters the ring to Celia Cruz’s Spanish-language “I Will Survive” cowl, it’s clear {that a} star is born. Not like among the extra flouncy-looking exóticos, who’re strictly figures of enjoyable, Cassandro stays an unapologetically homosexual man, milking energy from the viewers’s slurs as his potential within the ring turns catcalls into cheers.

Cassandro loses his first battle in opposition to the aptly named Gigantico (considered one of a handful of real-life lucha stars within the movie), however his talent at going a number of extremely aggressive rounds with an opponent twice his dimension earns him respect. It additionally will get the eye of shady promoter Lorenzo (Joaquín Cosío), who assigns his good-looking younger henchman Felipe (Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, higher generally known as Puerto Rican rapper Dangerous Bunny) to see to Saúl’s wants. This yields some pleasant flirtation.

What provides the film — and Bernal’s fantastic efficiency — such an infectious kick is the way in which Cassandro’s confidence grows, alongside together with his jubilant theatricality and the frilly glitz of his wrestling outfits, but in addition the way in which it informs how Saúl presents himself out on the earth. In a single little bit of usually mischievous dialogue throughout some post-coital pillow speak with Gerardo, he describes Cassandro as somebody fairly completely different from himself: “I feel Cassandro may be a high.”

Whereas that relationship is constrained by its secrecy, the scenes between Bernal and the always-terrific Castillo are smolderingly horny in addition to melancholy. Saúl desperately needs an official boyfriend, however Gerardo refuses to interrupt up his household, although not with out remorse and longing.

The opposite key relationship that provides Cassandro its luminous heat is between Saúl and Yocasta, who’s virtually extra of a drag sister than a mom. Their closeness is clear in each intimate second they share, blissful or unhappy. Whereas she has all the time prevented going to his lucha fights for worry of seeing him damage, she begins attending as soon as Cassandro is born, pleasure spreading throughout her pretty face as he wraps the gang round his little finger. The camaraderie between Saúl and Sabrina, who reads as queer even when her sexuality is rarely said, provides their allegiance one other layer of solidarity.

It’s notable that Bernal’s chemistry with all three of those important figures in Saúl’s life — fantastically performed by Castillo, De la Rosa and Colindrez — is simple, pure and drawn with love. The emotional depth of his efficiency is equaled by its transformative physicality. The actor is in unbelievable form, compact and stocky, filled with speedy strikes as he bounces off the ropes or the mat like a human pinball. Bernal additionally captures a elementary a part of the Cassandro persona within the radiant joie de vivre he finds as a performer.

Teague and Williams’ script is barely weaker in exploring a central battle, as soon as Cassandro turns into a subversive power, flipping the carved-in-stone lucha bylaw that claims the effeminate exótico all the time has to lose to the “actual man.” This side made Armendáriz a revolutionary determine within the sport — and in queer athletic empowerment — nevertheless it ruffled feathers among the many historically macho rivals. As depicted right here, it quantities to a little bit of murmured resentment, foreshadowing drama that doesn’t arrive.

That is additionally a kind of movies by which there are two or three completely different factors that appear like perfect endings, considerably diluting the poignancy of all of them. However that doesn’t make the general takeaway any much less satisfying.

The climactic battle takes place in a packed Mexico Metropolis stadium, with Saúl going through off in opposition to El Hijo del Santo (Son of Santo), a celebrated champion whose father was a legendary lucha star earlier than him. There’s private significance additionally in Saúl’s reminiscences of watching matches that includes the unique Santo on TV together with his father as a younger boy. A scene late within the movie by which Saúl is a visitor on Son of Santo’s speak present and a teenage viewers member reveals that the wrestler’s braveness impressed him to return out to his father is somewhat apparent however shifting nonetheless.

Williams’ documentary background breathes grit and authenticity into the atmosphere, as do the wealthy textures of Penachino’s pictures, notably the frequent night time scenes. And fabulous classic bangers like Blondie’s “Name Me” and Baccara’s “Sure Sir, I Can Boogie” flip Cassandro’s grand entrances into moments of triumph even earlier than the fights start. Armendáriz served as a guide on the movie; its makers have executed him proud.

By Admin

Leave a Reply