Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Roger Ross Williams
scr David Teague, Roger Ross Williams
prd Gerardo Gatica, Todd Black, David Bloomfield, Ted Hope, Julie Goldman
with Gael Garcia Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla De La Rosa, Raul Castillo, Joaquin Cosio, El Hijo del Santo, Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, Robert Salas, Jorge Andres Zerecero, Ronald Gonzales-Trujillo, Sofia Felix, Leonardo Alonso
release US/UK 15.Sep.23
23/Mexico Amazon 1h47

garcia bernal castillo martinez ocasio

See also:
Cassandro the Exotico 2018 Lucha VaVoom 2018

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martinez and garcia
Set in bluntly homophobic Latin American culture, this true drama follows a gay wrestler as he rises to global stardom against big odds. Cassandro el Exotico has already been featured in documentaries, but this narrative traces a strongly personal odyssey, getting under the skin of its characters to explore deeper thoughts and feelings. Director-cowriter Roger Ross Williams finds remarkable textures throughout this story, maintaining an earthy honesty.
Crossing the border from El Paso to work in Mexico, Saul (Garcia Bernal) begins his career as a patsy for much larger luchadores. Seeking his own success, he works with trainer Sabrina (Colindrez) to become an exotico, a camp, preening unmasked wrestler. But exoticos aren't allowed to win. So Saul takes on the system as the flashy Cassandro, winning the crowd in the process. His mother Yocasta (De La Rosa) isn't sure about this. Meanwhile, he finds secret romance with tough-guy luchador Gerardo (Castillo) and friendship with young promoter Felipe (Martinez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny).
Even within exotico circles, prejudice is rampant, so Saul must fight to be taken seriously as a flamboyant clown who beats beloved he-man champions. In flashbacks, Saul is depicted grappling in various ways with both his secret inner life and bigotry toward his biker-chick mother, whom he adores. Eventually she comes around to support him as Cassandro. But his deeply religious father (Salas) flatly rejected him when he came out. And success brings other issues, including drugs.

Garcia Bernal is sensational in the role. Watching Saul embrace his inner diva and blossom as a performer is riveting, especially as he boldly pokes fun at the macho giants who brutally dismiss him. The physicality of the role is intense in the ring, and Garcia Bernal brings the same muscularity to scenes with the terrific Castillo, as a closeted family man who rejects the idea of coming out. As the story continues, Garcia Bernal finds vivid emotional moments as well.

Colourful wrestling shows provide an escape from the realities of the world. And the film notes the grim situation for poor people both in the US and Mexico. So while the script skips over some of the bigger events of Saul Armendariz's life, it's beautifully focussed in a way that will speak to audiences, championing public figures who have the bravery to be themselves and inspire others. Which also makes the film a powerfully moving call for compassion.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 12.Sep.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall