When Barton Fink, the neurotic screenwriter cooked up by the Coen brothers, scrambles to jot down a wrestling image, his friends prescribe the fundamentals. Inform us the person’s ambitions. Entangle him in a romance. You understand the drill. Not even in Barton’s most delirious desires may he have envisioned “Cassandro,” a few flamboyant, sequin-clad luchador who takes his ring identify from a telenovela. However I wager Barton may have drafted the movie’s define, which makes use of the identical squelchy gymnasium bag of methods as many underdog sports activities dramas.
Primarily based on an actual star of Mexican skilled wrestling, or lucha libre, Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal) is a profoundly uncommon athlete wedged right into a biopic that typically seems like satisfactory stage combating: elegantly executed however drained of hazard.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated”), the film depicts the decisive, late-Nineteen Eighties interval when Saúl ascended out of obscurity and into the large time, braving numerous coaching montages and some non-public miseries on his solution to the highest.
We meet the striver in Texas in early maturity, when he’s aiding his mom, Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), along with her laundry enterprise and wrestling at a close-by membership. Utilizing the identify El Topo (The Mole), he tumbles into the ring masked and petite, a pipsqueak doomed to behave as a punching bag reverse giants. “Let me guess. You’re at all times solid because the runt?” challenges Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), a neighborhood lucha hotshot and coach. She spies potential in Saúl, and gives to teach him professional bono.
Colindrez, like lots of the actors on this film, is a superlative performer. Her character is granted little interiority — she serves by turns as Saúl’s fierce advocate and his shoulder to cry on — however alongside Bernal she radiates a cool glow match for a movie much less shackled by the ebbs and flows of established conference. In conversations with Sabrina, Saúl toggles between English and Spanish, reserving the latter for colloquialisms or teasing, and the combination provides their dialogue an natural rhythm. He makes use of the identical mix of languages along with his lover, Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), a married luchador with youngsters whom Saúl sees in secret.
Saúl’s sexuality is directly a serious plot level and considerably underexplored. With mild nudging from Sabrina, Saúl, who got here out as a teen and is supported by his mom, quickly reinvents his ring persona because the campy Cassandro, an “exótico,” or luchador who performs with femininity. The character initially attracts slurs and heckling, however shortly (and maybe too effortlessly) begins profitable matches and turns into a fan favourite. That is an period when H.I.V. and AIDS panic was at its shrillest, and though the real-life Cassandro was typically rebuffed by homophobic opponents, the film by no means mentions the epidemic. (Williams wrote the screenplay with David Teague.)
“Cassandro” is at its strongest when it zeros in on the connection between Saúl and Gerardo, who share a bodily intimacy that each echoes their combating careers and acts as an escape from them. Alone, protected from onlookers, the pair tussle in mattress. “Don’t you assume he’s horny?” Saúl says, referring to Cassandro as if he had been a 3rd one that would possibly be a part of them.
Williams, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, is an knowledgeable orchestrator of naturalism. The difficulty is that lucha libre, constructed on glitz, is something however naturalistic. The confident freedom Saúl channels in mattress by no means makes its means into scenes within the ring, which are likely to tire when they need to dazzle.
Rated R for medicine and slugs. Working time: 1 hour 47 minutes. Watch on Amazon Prime Video.