'Cassandro' movie review: Packing a punch

Despite hitting the expected highs, Cassandro falls short in delivering a strong emotional impact.
'Cassandro' movie review: Packing a punch

Prime Video’s latest, Cassandro, is the biopic of gay wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, who competes in Lucha Libre, a form of Mexican professional wrestling. Raised by a supportive single mother, Saúl initially fights under the ring name, El Topo. He, however, decides to own his identity, and transform into a drag-wrestler, Cassandro, at the insistence of his trainer. The film goes on to document his fearless journey, both inside and outside the ring.

In an early scene, we see an announcer introducing a fighter who “draws strength from the flutter of butterflies”. That is followed by the entry of  a well-built athlete in a white singlet, but donning painted red lips and red and white flowers in his hair. Saúl (a fantastic Gael García Bernal) is welcomed with homophobic slurs from the audience. The visual sows the seeds for the narrative that has a promising premise. The execution, however, yields mixed results.

Despite hitting the expected highs, Cassandro falls short in delivering a strong emotional impact. For instance, when Saúl squares off with El Hijo del Santo, one of the legendary wrestlers, there are reverberating cheers. While it should have immersed the audience—it is the moment when Saúl transforms from being the “runt”, El Topo, to a celebrated queer icon—there is a sense of detachment from the film. The impassive writing makes it difficult for the viewer to root for the underdog. 

Even though Saúl’s in-ring life doesn’t hit the right kicks and punches, his personal story is showcased with sublime nuances of affection and acceptance. The film successfully taps into the various shades of love without judging its characters, and this is where Cassandro really soars. There’s the unconditional kind showered by his mother—she stands by his side after Saúl’s religious father leaves, when he can no longer accept his son’s sexuality. Then, there’s the unrequited love, the melancholy of which is brought to life in Saúl’s relationship with Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), a married man.

Unlike a Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, Cassandro offers a deeper purpose for queer individuals, which goes beyond their sexuality. Despite its flaws, the movie challenges social divides, and holds out hope for a world that can find strength in the smallest of things, like the flutter of a butterfly.

Director: Roger Ross Williams
Genre: Action
Platform: Amazon Prime
Language: English

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The New Indian Express