MUBI UK film review: Cassandro, The Exotico!
James R | On 19, May 2020
Director: Marie Losier
Cast: Saul “Cassandro” Armendariz
Watch Cassandro, The Exotico! online in the UK: MUBI UK
“My body tells me it’s time, but my ego tells me I can still go.” That’s the sound of a professional Mexico wrestler coming to terms with the fact that the end is in sight. Because after 24 years of diving onto, jumping off and slapping into the hard, unforgiving surface of a wrestling ring, Cassandro is facing retirement.
He’s an enchanting – and, yes, exotic – screen presence, and director Marie Losier does a wonderful job of capturing that larger-than-life quality in her delicate documentary. From the opening shot, which is a video call half-connected, it’s clear that this is a more intimate portrait than most; Cassandro lets Losier in behind the mask, never shirking away from being open an honest with a filmmaker who has clearly earned his trust.
Losier repays that trust with imagination and flair; for all the documentary’s low-key naturalism, there’s also a touch of dreamlike magic in the 16mm footage, which catches the light at the edge of the frame and picks out the glamour and elegance of this ageing performer. The video clips we do see of the luchador in action are as graceful as they are brutal, and his physical agility is impressive to see – while gay men in lucha libre having traditionally been cast as the “exotico”, the lightweight decoration to complement the straight men, Cassandro is every bit their match, with strength and precision that make him a threat in his own right.
That doesn’t mean he shirks the glamour, though, and his capes, costumes and gestures are exquisite, all part of the way wrestling gave him a way to express his identity – he refers to himself as the “Liberace of lucha libre”. Lomier contrasts that with mentions of abuse he suffered in the past, of injuries he’s endured in the recent present, of the rehab therapy sessions that will continue to be a part of his life in the future.
Made over several years, the result is a funny but also poignant snapshot of a man shining through adversity, even as he steps out of the spotlight. It lacks the heavyweight clout of, say, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, but the fleeting fragility of this handcrafted artefact is what gives it its punch – flamboyant but tough, playful but resilient, this is a stylish, slight yet substantial contender.
Cassandro, The Exotico! is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription, until 18th June 2020.