Starring: Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla De La Rosa, Raúl Castillo, Bad Bunny
Director: Roger Ross Williams
For the uninitiated - of which I was one until yesterday - lucha libre is the flamboyant Mexican professional wrestling, probably best known for its wrestlers’ use of striking masks. Cassandro (real name Saúl) is the subject of this new biopic starring Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Y Tu Mama Tambien) about the sport’s most successful exotico; an eccentric and camp gay figure who had previously been the butt of all the jokes in the ring and always on the losing side.
Having wrestled all his life as El Topo (The Mouse), Saúl is frustrated that he is stuck at the bottom of the pack, always expected to lose his matches. Deciding to take a risk to be noticed, he changes his persona to create Cassandro, a flamboyant and provocative gay character who - unlike all previous exoticos - was decidedly in the ring to win. He defies critics and dismissive audiences by winning against some of the biggest luchadors in Mexico. And as he does, his mother (Colindrez) becomes finally proud of the achievements of her gay son.
Peeling back the curtain on the crazy world of lucha libre, we see much of the sport on a ground roots level. Clearly Bernal has trained a lot in preparation for the role, because his performance of the wrestling is strikingly physical, with all the leaps, flips and falls involved in this choreographed sport. Bernal is excellent, capturing all this showmanship and bravado alongside Cassandro’s signature eccentricity.
To an outsider, lucha libre takes a lot of explaining. The idea that matches are fixed and it’s more performance than competition raises a lot of questions that, unfortunately, Cassandro struggles to answer. A good comparison is figure skating biopic I, Tonya, which did a very good job at presenting an unusual sport, investing time in ensuring that the arena in which she was competing was as clear to us as it was to her. Cassandro struggles on that point, because for all its seductive sequins, leotards and masks, the rules of the sport are just as unclear at the end as they are at the start.
Cassandro is a beguilingly camp sports move with a career-best performance from Bernal, but the director struggles to find an authentic entry point to a world that feels like fiction. Flamboyant, camp and so far over the top he’s skated down the other side, Cassandro is a fascinating figure ripe for the biopic treatment. But lucha libre is unlikely to find any new fans off the back of this mediocre film.
UK Release: Out now to watch on VOD on Amazon Prime