Roger Ross Williams‘ narrative directorial debut, Cassandro, tells the compelling and inspiring story of Saúl Armendáriz, a gay wrestler from El Paso, Texas, who transforms into the flamboyant and resilient lucha libre sensation, Cassandro. The film explores themes of identity, self-acceptance, and the struggle for recognition in a traditionally macho sport. While it offers an engaging and heartfelt narrative, it also leaves room for deeper exploration and development.
Set in the early 1980s, the film introduces us to Saúl Armendáriz, portrayed with captivating depth by Gael García Bernal. Saúl’s life revolves around his passion for lucha libre, and he regularly crosses the border into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to engage in wrestling matches under the persona El Topo. It’s here that he meets Sabrina, played by Roberta Colindrez, who becomes his mentor and suggests a daring transformation—competing as an exótico, a subgenre of lucha libre where wrestlers embrace their effeminate and flamboyant sides. This pivotal moment marks the birth of Cassandro, a character that challenges norms and stereotypes in the world of professional wrestling.
Gael García Bernal’s portrayal of Saúl/Cassandro is nothing short of remarkable. He captures the essence of Saúl’s complex journey—his struggle with his own identity, his resilience, and his ultimate embrace of who he truly is. Bernal’s performance is a highlight of the film, as he convincingly conveys the physical and emotional toll of being a lucha libre wrestler while navigating the challenges of being openly gay in a conservative society.
Roberta Colindrez as Sabrina, Saúl’s trainer and confidante, delivers a strong performance. She embodies the role with a mix of toughness and empathy, guiding Saúl on his path to becoming Cassandro. Their dynamic is one of the film’s strengths, highlighting the importance of supportive relationships in the face of adversity.
Raúl Castillo’s portrayal of Gerardo/El Comandante, a fellow wrestler and antagonist to Cassandro, is strong, but the character feels somewhat one-dimensional. More depth and complexity in his character’s motivations could have added layers to the conflict between the two wrestlers.
Visually, Cassandro is a vibrant and dynamic film. The wrestling sequences are choreographed with energy and flair, capturing the excitement and intensity of lucha libre. The cinematography by Matias Penachino beautifully captures the colorful world of Mexican wrestling and the gritty reality of Saúl’s life in El Paso.
One of the film’s standout features is its ability to confront the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in a macho-dominated sport. Cassandro challenges stereotypes and norms, breaking down barriers for LGBTQ+ athletes in the wrestling world. However, the film leaves some aspects unexplored. It could have delved deeper into the cultural and societal challenges that Cassandro faced as an openly gay exótico wrestler in Mexico, shedding light on the broader issues of acceptance and discrimination within the sport.
Furthermore, the narrative pacing occasionally feels uneven, with some scenes moving briskly while others linger. A tighter edit could have improved the film’s overall flow and emotional impact. The soundtrack of Cassandro, featuring a mix of traditional Mexican music and contemporary tracks, adds depth to the film’s atmosphere, enhancing the emotional resonance of key moments.
Cassandro is a captivating and emotionally charged film that offers a window into the life of a trailblazing wrestler who defied expectations and stereotypes. Gael García Bernal’s powerful performance as Saúl/Cassandro anchors the film, while the supporting cast adds depth to the narrative. The film’s exploration of identity, resilience, and acceptance in the world of lucha libre is both relevant and inspiring.
Cassandro Review: A Wrestling Journey of Identity and Resilience
- Acting - 7.5/107.5/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 7/107/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 6/106/10
- Setting/Theme - 6.5/106.5/10
- Watchability - 7/107/10
- Rewatchability - 5/105/10