As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, professional wrestling is my biggest passion outside of film. However, for the most part, I feel that wrestling has been poorly represented on screen, which is a real shame because it could make for some great films. There are some exceptions, such as Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and Fighting With My Family (my ninth best film of 2019). And then there is today’s topic, Cassandro, The Exotico!, which follows a long lineage of documentaries about the realities of pro wrestling.
Cassandro, The Exotico! follows the life of Mexican wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, who competes in the sport of lucha libre under the ring name Cassandro. He is an ‘exótico’, a male wrestler who incorporates campy and feminine aspects to their persona/gimmick. Describing himself as ‘the Liberace of lucha libre’, the openly gay Cassandro has competed in the ring for 26 years and explicitly states his plans to continue wrestling. However, as he goes on a European tour and his body shows signs of wearing down, Cassandro begins to ponder his future in the squared circle.
Cassandro, The Exotico! is directed by French documentarian Marie Losier and has a somewhat complicated history. The documentary was presumably filmed between 2015-16, as shown both through a fleeting glimpse at a billboard and a time jump that shows Cassandro with short hair (a result of a Luchas des Apuestas match he lost). The film was then released in France in December 2018 but has just made its way over here courtesy of streaming service MUBI. In any case, it will count towards my end-of-year list, which is good because after watching this film, I can safely say that it was worth the wait.
Cassandro is a wrestler you have probably never heard of but once you’ve seen Cassandro, The Exotico!, you will feel as if you know every aspect of his life. He shows us a collection of his outfits, including a white number inspired by his heroine Princess Diana. There’s footage scattered throughout of him wrestling, showing off his technical prowess in the ring. He helps train budding wrestlers, guiding them through the intricacies of a suicide dive. And, in perhaps the most eye-opening sequence of the film, he goes through a list of his injuries throughout the years. He’s fractured his tibia bone, broken many teeth and suffered from nerve damage. These injuries and scars help to illustrate a major theme of the film, which is Cassandro’s future as he approaches the end of his career. He doesn’t want to give up what he loves but as he approaches his fifties, his body is worn down and he needs surgery on his ACL.
Cassandro, The Exotico! is a documentary that shows the relationship between director and subject, like when Losier comforts Cassandro over a Skype call, and fully labels how important lucha libre is to Mexican culture (Cassandro describes it as a religion, namechecking the god-like El Santo in the process). Crucially though, it makes you sympathise with Cassandro, his infectious personality and the tough life he’s led. His is a life of anguish, abuse and addiction that he has slowly worked his way through, perhaps best shown through his collection of multi-coloured sobriety keychains that reminded me of the substance abuse issues that too many wrestlers fail to recover from. I did disagree with a couple of the film’s stylistic choices but overall, I thought the film’s larger-than-life subject and its intimacy overshadowed those moments. Cassandro, The Exotico! is a brilliant, insightful watch regardless of whether you’re a professional wrestling aficionado or a novice.
So that was my review of Cassandro, The Exotico!; if you agree or disagree, comment below this post. If you want new content delivered to your e-mail inbox, subscribe on the front. You can follow me on Twitter @CinematicSense or on Letterboxd here. And if you want to suggest a film or topic for me to cover, comment on any one of my posts or Tweets. I’m Daniel from The Cinematic Sense, and in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night…