Cassandro Review – IGN

Cassandro is currently playing in select theaters. The film premieres on Prime Video September 21.

Lucha libre, like any sport, reflects the assumptions and expectations of its society of origin. In the biographical film Cassandro, the focus is on the all-encompassing machismo of Mexican culture and the wrestler who defied it with flamboyance and determination.

The story begins with Saúl Armendáriz (played by Gael García Bernal), an openly gay man from El Paso, Texas, attempting to find his place in the luchador scene of the early 1990s. Saúl’s fellow wrestlers, aware of his sexuality, subject him to homophobic remarks and keep their distance. They suggest that Saúl wrestle as an exótico, a gay-coded character type that typically gets defeated by the heterosexual hero. This portrayal reflects society’s treatment of gay individuals as jokes and targets. But Saúl refuses to settle for mere tolerance – he wants to win.

To pursue his goal, Saúl seeks the guidance of a new trainer named Sabrina (played by Roberta Colindrez), who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Through his interactions with Sabrina and her friends, Saúl begins to break out of his shell and develops a new persona. Previously known as El Topo, a generic masked wrestler, Saúl transforms into the outrageous Cassandro, an exótico with a twist. Despite his makeup and provocative poses, Cassandro becomes a character that the audience cheers for, reshaping the lucha libre landscape.

Saúl himself undergoes a transformation. Initially portrayed as meek and apologetic, Bernal shows his character’s growth as Cassandro’s popularity soars. Saúl retains his sweetness and humility, but now walks with confidence and meets the gaze of the macho audience members, silently asserting his identity. He even confronts his married lover Gerardo (played by Raúl Castillo), a fellow luchador who is reluctant to be seen with Saúl in public, with an ultimatum.

Saúl’s journey takes him to Mexico City, where he faces off against the legendary El Hijo de Santo (portrayed by himself), solidifying his status as a bona fide luchador. Despite the whispers and warnings from his fellow wrestlers about challenging the traditions of lucha libre, the film avoids onscreen violence. Similarly, Saúl’s flirtation with Felipe (played by Bad Bunny), who works for his manager, remains free of dangerous consequences. Cassandro chooses to focus on the positive, presenting Saúl/Cassandro’s rise to fame as a relatively smooth journey, omitting details such as his real-life struggles with drug addiction and depression.

Instead, the film derives its drama from Saúl’s relationship with his mother Yocasta (played by Perla De La Rosa) and his absent father, who barely acknowledged their existence. While it is refreshing that Cassandro avoids the clichés of trauma often found in LGBTQ+ films, its conventional sports-movie elements and inspirational narrative present Saúl’s ultimate triumph with a single note rather than exploring deeper complexities.

Bernal delivers a lovable performance that aligns with the modest aspirations of the film. Director Roger Ross Williams, known for his documentaries, establishes a gritty realism in Saúl’s world, complemented by the flamboyant personas of the luchadores. Although the potential for a campy film set in this world exists, Cassandro takes a different approach, highlighting one man’s journey toward inner strength through an outwardly vibrant persona – a reflection of the iconic wrestler himself, albeit with less flamboyance.