What makes someone extraordinary? This question crosses my mind each and every time I watch a biopic. There must be something about the individuals whose lives we deem the general public needs to know. There’s been such an influx of biopics in recent years, each one showcasing the extraordinary lives of these larger-than-life individuals. Prime Video is releasing two such films a week apart on their streaming service, beginning with A Million Miles Away last week, and continuing the charge with the upcoming Cassandro, named for real-life luchador/exótico Saúl Armendáriz.
This adaptation of Armendáriz’s life is written by Roger Rose Williams and David Teague, with the former serving as the film’s director as well. Bringing the trailblazer to life is Gael Garcia Bernal (Werewolf By Night, Babel), joined by Roberta Colindrez, Joaquin Cosio, Raúl Castillo, and Bad Bunny. Much like the aforementioned A Million Miles Away, Cassandro brings about some all-important representation of individuals whose stories have been ignored for too long. For that reason alone, this film should be on your To-Watch list when it comes out later this week. Continue on to find out why.
[Warning: Slight spoilers and impressions of Prime Video’s Cassandro are below!]
From Saúl to Cassandro
When we meet Saúl Armendáriz at the beginning of this film, life isn’t exactly easy. He’s a man living in the wrong time, being openly gay and living in the early 1980’s. Factor in that he’s located in El Paso, Texas, and the level of acceptance shrinks even further. However, in spite of all that is stacked against him. Saúl’s determined to make a life that both he and his mother can be proud of. Part of building that life requires him to make frequent trips across the border to Mexico.
This is where Armendáriz’s life goes from mundane to interesting, as he isn’t journeying to Mexico for just any normal job. No, he’s venturing to Ciudad Juárez to work as a luchador in regular wrestling competitions as El Topo. However, he seems incredibly unfulfilled with his current career.
As El Topo, Saúl’s stuck at the bottom of the totem pole, never the headliner of the matches and always throwing the fights to earn a buck. He aspires to be something more but becomes trapped in the system that seems to work against him. A feeling that many can relate to.
Eventually, Armendáriz grows tired of his personal Groundhog Day hellscape and seeks out a new trainer. That’s when he finds Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), an individual who believes in him as much as he believes in himself. Together, they decide to pivot Armendáriz’s career, El Topo is no longer. Instead, he’s now known as Cassandro, an exócito who allows Saúl to finally embrace exactly who he is. Although, the transition is not an easy one.
Change isn’t easily embraced by everyone in this Prime Video film
Deciding to drop El Topo and take on the persona of Cassandro, taken from the title of a well-known telenovela Cassandra, might have been the most difficult choice Saúl had ever had to make. Personally, he embraces it and seems to be thriving to shuck the shell that holds him back. However, those in his life, and the general audience of the lucha libre matches he participates in, are less than thrilled with his decision to become an exócito.
Being an exócito is a vastly different experience from that of a luchador, mostly in the costumes and persona that you put out to the audience. Saúl is proud to wear flamboyant costumes and makeup, taking inspiration from his mother’s clothes throughout the years. However, mixing the exóito appearance with traditional lucha libre matches is a tough pill to swallow. The fear and anger exhibited by some of these people come from not understanding, which comes out as ignorance toward Cassandro.
In his personal life, this ignorance and fear is seen through the eyes of his mother. She worries about what his father, who abandoned him when he was younger for being homosexual, will think. But ultimately her anxiety is for the safety of her child. She worries about others accepting him, which is not necessarily a fear that Saúl shares.
It certainly takes some time, but eventually, those in his life learn to accept his persona as Cassandro, with many people of the general population celebrating him and his antics. There are some who wish for him to be more closeted with his appearance, such as his boyfriend, but the majority of people welcome the energy and light that Cassandro brings to the male-dominated sport.
At its core, Prime Video’s Cassandro is about finding acceptance, both from yourself and others. This journey is at the core of Saul’s journey and is the emotional drive for these characters and the film as a whole. There are integral points in the film where you see how badly Saúl desires the acceptance of his parents, specifically his father, and the emotional crux happens when he realizes that he accepts himself and doesn’t require that from others.
The good and the bad of Cassandro
The previously discussed emotional message was one of the best parts of this film. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the theme of acceptance was something that hit close to home. At the same time, that message is universal, as we’ve all wanted to be accepted for who we are. Watching someone from my own community go through that journey when it was still so dangerous to be gay was awe-inspiring.
The acting in this film was phenomenal, with most of the praise going to Gael Garcia Bernal and Roberta Colindrez. Bernal was fantastic as Cassandro, playing a remarkably nuanced performance as the out-of-this-world exócito. He captures the essence of this hero to many, someone who is unafraid to be a gay man in a sport that doesn’t necessarily agree with or understand that. Bernal was intoxicating to watch in almost every single scene he was in.
And one of the only ones who seemed to match him was the quick-witted Colindrez. She was the perfect foil to the chaotic nature of Saúl. Where he was untamed, she was solid as a rock. She never wavers in her conviction, which for this story helped propel Cassandro’s career to new heights. The dynamics that exist between these two made the film what it was, elevating it from a basic biopic to one to remember.
There are a few sections that are a bit slower, leaning into the drama of Saúl’s life instead of the grander aspects of Cassandro’s public life. Moments between him and his mother, or even exploring the dynamics between him and his closeted boyfriend Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), are slower by necessity. It would be a slight against the man behind Cassandro if we didn’t learn the entirety of who he is. Audiences need to sit with him in those quiet moments to appreciate just how much good and happiness he spread through his work.
As well, the addition of Bad Bunny felt wasted for the amount of star power his name alone brings to the film. His fans will flock because his name is attached to Cassandro, but there isn’t much substance to his role, other than a glorified cameo. For what he has in the film, he does a good job, but it felt like there should have been something more for Bad Bunny in the film.
For those who might struggle with captions, this film is laden with them. It feels like more than half the film is in Spanish, meaning that, if you don’t understand Spanish at all, you do have to read a good portion of what’s said to understand what’s going on. However, the time invested in reading the dialogue is worth it, as the film is exceptional in almost every way.
My rating for this film:
Cassandro arrives on Prime Video this Friday. Will you be checking it out? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.