Gay Essential Review: Cassandro, The Exotico! at BFI Flare

Offering an intimate glance behind the luchador’s mask is the documentary film, Cassandro, the Exotico! Produced by Marie Losier and Tamara films, this 73-minute film follows the flamboyant and talented professional wrestler, Cassandro (birth name Saul Armendariz). American-born to Mexican immigrants, Cassandro spent his youth between El Paso, Texas and his family’s homeland near Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. Knowing he was gay at an early age, he gravitated toward the flash and the glam surrounding Lucha Libre – in particular, the muscular men with larger than life personalities donning brightly color spandex.

Cassandro The Exotico

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After 27 years on the professional and independent circuits, Cassandro takes the filmmakers on a journey through his bumpy career, one with both physical and mental scars alike. Beginning his career as a villain, Cassandro reinvented his ring character a handful of times, as is common in Lucha Libre. He was inspired to take on the role of an exotico by the famous luchador, Baby Sharon. Traditionally, exoticos were known as cross-dressing gay caricatures played by straight men. Cassandro and Baby Sharon, however, are noted for being the first gay men to play gay characters in Lucha Libre. This was a rather controversial path to take in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but one that paid off greatly in affording Cassandro not only a career, but an opportunity to inject a fair share of himself in his work.

Archive footage provides plenty of dream-like nostalgia, as a high-flying and extraordinary Cassandro takes out his opponents one-by-one. Complete with lavish dress and feathered hair, Cassandro, recognized as the “Liberace of Lucha Libre,” quickly climbed the ranks of popularity in the Mexican sport, all without smearing his eyeliner. In stark contrast, the audience is given an unfiltered behind the scenes look at the life of the man behind Cassandro. Plenty of images share a modest home full of memorabilia of the glory days, quaint family photos, and a subtle reminder that this is a family that was in the church pew on Sunday mornings and seated ringside Sunday nights.

Much like the 2008 drama The Wrestler, which starred Mickey Rourke, Cassandro, the Exotico! presents the often deflating, two-sided life of professional wrestling. On one side is the luchador persona, wagering his hair in countless matches and taking home a championship belt – a moment that arguable inspired many gay wrestlers who followed in his footsteps. Yet, on the other side is the life of Saul Armendariz, nursing a headache and counting the scars of his numerous ACL tears, rotator cuff surgeries, cuts, and bite wounds, while taking in a game of football in his bath robe. Filmmaker Marie Losier is careful to provide this balanced view, and still manages to let the flood gates open when the sparkle and flash of Cassandro shines through in Saul, even right up to the moment when the 40-something champion decides it may perhaps be time to finally hang up the spandex for good.

A unique documentary, much of Cassandro, the Exotico! feels like a home movie with plentiful glimpses of objects and trophies symbolizing the luchador’s life, all revealed in a 16mm film look and feel. The audience is engaged with Cassandro early on, and is taken along for the ride as he aims to relive the glory days. Though Cassandro is battered, bruised, and perhaps a little bit too rusty, Marie Losier’s work in telling his story is anything but.

5 Stars

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Dave Croyle

Dave Croyle

Producer
Dave Croyle is an advertising and marketing professional with a knack for building ideas and getting things done. Throughout his career he has written and produced creative work for a variety of brands, big and small. As a history buff and art geek, Dave is passionate about exploring cultures and seeing the world. Dave resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and two dogs.