Cassandro: Gael García Bernal’s Shining Performance in Feel-Good Biopic


Gael García Bernal Brings the Story of Saúl Armendáriz to Life in ‘Cassandro’

Sports dramas have always captivated audiences with their inspiring underdog stories, and the world of Mexican professional wrestling, Lucha Libre, holds its fair share of captivating tales. One such story waiting to be told is that of Saúl Armendáriz, a gay wrestler in the 1980s who broke into the macho world of Lucha Libre. And who better to bring this compelling story to the screen than Gael García Bernal, whose recent role as a deserving antagonist in The Mother showcased his talent and versatility.

A Film Blurring Boundaries: ‘Cassandro’

Cassandro is a bilingual film directed by Roger Ross Williams, featuring an ensemble cast that includes Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla De La Rosa, Joaquín Cosío, Raúl Castillo, El Hijo del Santo, and Bad Bunny. With a runtime of 107 minutes, the film delves into the captivating life of Saúl Armendáriz, a gay wrestler who shattered the stereotypes of a male-dominated sport.

A Journey of Resilience and Identity

The film introduces us to Saúl (portrayed by García Bernal), who resides in El Paso, Texas, with his mother Yocasta (played by Perla De La Rosa). Saúl supports his mother by helping her mend clothes and laundry. However, his real passion lies across the border in Mexico, where he participates in Lucha Libre under the persona of El Topo.

It is during his journey that Saúl meets Sabrina (played by Roberta Colindrez), a trainer, who suggests that he fight as an exótico—a wrestler who fights in drag. While exóticos have been a part of Lucha Libre since the 1940s, their flamboyant costumes and mannerisms were not meant to reflect their sexuality outside the ring. Saúl, however, decides to break away from convention and fights as an exótico with the goal of winning. This choice leads him to the famous El Hijo del Santo (playing himself), the son of Mexican folk hero and professional wrestler El Santo. Taking inspiration from his mother’s favorite telenovela, Saúl adopts the stage name Cassandro.

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Gael García Bernal’s Stellar Performance

One of the most commendable aspects of Cassandro is Gael García Bernal’s exceptional performance as Saúl. Bernal effortlessly embodies the character, not only through the striking costumes and makeup but also through his portrayal of Saúl’s sensitivity, humor, and passion. The film also shines a light on the heartwarming relationship between Saúl and his mother, who raised him alone after his father abandoned them.

Despite the challenges Saúl faces, he refuses to see himself as a victim. He matter-of-factly shares with Sabrina the painful experience of his father cutting off contact with him and Yocasta when he came out as gay at the age of 15. Saúl’s relationship with Gerardo (portrayed by Raúl Castillo), who is married, brings both joy and sorrow, as Gerardo is unwilling to publicly acknowledge their connection.

While Cassandro takes certain liberties with the facts, compresses timelines, and opts for a more positive portrayal by omitting Saúl’s suicide attempt and glossing over the details of his drug habit, it remains a beautiful cinematic experience. The film serves as both entertainment and a glimpse into the popular world of Lucha Libre, while also shedding light on the extraordinary life of the man who defied societal norms in a notoriously macho space.

Stream ‘Cassandro’ on Prime Video

If you’re ready to immerse yourself in the vibrant costumes, dramatic moments, and fascinating world of Lucha Libre, be sure to stream Cassandro on Prime Video. With its engaging storyline, powerful performances, and heartfelt messages, this film is certain to leave a lasting impact.

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Gael García Bernal in ‘Cassandro’ | Photo Credit: Prime Video

Sports dramas are always fun — the underdog always wins and we all love that. The story of Saúl Armendáriz, the gay wrestler in the ’80s who broke into the macho world of Mexican professional wrestling, Lucha Libre, was one waiting to be told. And Gael García Bernal, who we last saw as the nasty man getting his just desserts from Jennifer Lopez in The Mother is just the man to do it.

Cassandro (English and Spanish)
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla De La Rosa, Joaquín Cosío, Raúl Castillo, El Hijo del Santo, Bad Bunny
Runtime: 107 minutes
Storyline: The story of Saúl Armendáriz, the gay wrestler, who as Cassandro broke into the male-dominated world of wrestling

Saúl (Bernal) lives with his mother, Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), in El Paso, Texas, helping her with mending the clothes she launders. He goes across the border to Mexico to participate in Lucha Libre. He participates as El Topo till he meets Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), a trainer, who suggests he fights as an exótico, a wrestler who fights in drag.

While there have been exóticos since the 1940s, adding color with their flamboyant costumes and mannerisms, it was not supposed to reflect their sexuality outside of the ring. Going off script, Saúl decides to fight to win as an exótico. He goes to the ring in Mexico City against the famous El Hijo del Santo (playing himself), the son of El Santo, a Mexican folk hero and professional wrestler. Saúl chooses the stage name of Cassandro, from a telenovela his mum likes. The historic match creates opportunities of Saúl and also opens a path for gay wrestlers.

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Gael García Bernal and Perla de la Rosa in ‘Cassandro’ | Photo Credit: Prime Video

There is much to like about Cassandro starting with Bernal’s performance, which is easily his best till now. He embodies Saúl from the flourishes of costume and make-up to his sensitivity, humor, and passion. His relationship with his mother, who brought him up alone after his father deserted them, is heartwarming.

Saúl does not see himself as a victim. He matter-of-factly tells Sabrina that when he came out at the age of 15, his father (who was married with children) just stopped visiting Jocasta and him. His relationship with Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), a married man, is a source of great joy and sorrow, as Gerardo is not willing to publicly acknowledge Saúl.

While the film takes some liberties with the facts, compresses timelines, and chooses to stay on the bright side with no mentions of Saúl’s suicide attempt before the big match and skimming over the details of his drug habit, Cassandro is a beautiful movie experience.

It is fun for the costumes, the drama, the insight into the popular world of Lucha Libre as well as a slice of the life of the man who turned that macho space upside down.

Cassandro is currently streaming on Prime Video.



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