Review of ‘Cassandro’: Love and Wrestling | ET REALITY


When Barton Fink, the neurotic screenwriter invented by the Coen brothers, rushes to write a wrestling movie, his colleagues prescribe the basics. Tell us the man’s ambitions. Entangle him in a romance. You already know what to do. Not even in Barton’s wildest dreams could he have imagined “Cassandro,” about a flamboyant sequin-clad wrestler who takes his ring name from a soap opera. But I bet Barton could have drafted the movie’s outline, which he uses the same gym bag full of tricks as many underdog sports dramas.

Based on a real Mexican professional wrestling star, Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal) is a deeply unusual athlete thrust into a biopic that sometimes feels like a passable stage fight: executed with elegance but without danger.

Directed by Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated”), the film depicts the defining period of the late ’80s when Saul rose from obscurity to fame, braving countless training montages and some private miseries on his way to the top. . .

We meet the wrestler in Texas in his youth, when he helps his mother, Jocasta (Perla De La Rosa), with her laundry business and wrestles at a nearby club. Using the name El Topo, he jumps into the ring masked and small, an insignificant man condemned to act as a punching bag in front of giants. “Let me guess. Do you always get cast as the midget?” challenges Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), a trainer and local wrestling star. She sees potential in Saul and offers to train him for free.

Colindrez, like many of the actors in this film, is a superlative performer. Her character is granted little interiority (she acts alternately as Saul’s fierce defender and his shoulder to cry on), but alongside Bernal she radiates a cold glow worthy of a film less subject to the ebbs and flows of established conventions. . In conversations with Sabrina, Saúl alternates between English and Spanish, reserving the latter for colloquialisms or mockery, and the mix gives their dialogues an organic rhythm. He uses the same combination of languages ​​with his lover, Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), a married fighter with children whom Saúl sees secretly.

Saul’s sexuality is both a major plot point and somewhat underexplored. With a gentle nudge from Sabrina, Saúl, who came out as a teenager and has the support of his mother, soon reinvents his in-ring persona as the campy Cassandro, an “exotic” or wrestler who plays with femininity. The character initially attracts insults and boos, but quickly (and perhaps without much effort) begins to win matches and become a fan favorite. This is a time when panic over HIV and AIDS was most strident, and although the real-life Cassandro was sometimes rejected by homophobic opponents, the film never mentions the epidemic. (Williams wrote the script with David Teague.)

“Cassandro” is at its strongest when it focuses on the relationship between Saúl and Gerardo, who share a physical intimacy that echoes their wrestling careers and acts as an escape from them. Alone, safe from onlookers, the couple fights in bed. “You don’t think he’s sexy?” Saúl says, referring to Cassandro as if he were a third person who could join them.

Williams, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, is an expert orchestrator of naturalism. The problem is that wrestling, based on ostentation, is anything but naturalistic. The carefree freedom that Saúl channels in bed never reaches the ring scenes, which tend to be tiring when they should dazzle.

Rated R for drugs and slugs. Duration: 1 hour 47 minutes. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

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