Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Marie Losier tracks the unusual once again via the gay Luchador, CASSANDRO THE EXOTICO!

If you're familiar with the documentary work of French-born filmmaker Marie Losier (The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye), you'll know that this sweet and humane woman is most attracted to the outsider, the "other" whose existence might seem, in the face of it, almost crazy, if not outright miraculous. So it is with the subject of Losier's latest documentary to find theatrical release, CASSANDRO THE EXOTICO!

This is the story of a man -- Saúl Armendáriz, born and raised in El Paso (though I believe in the film itself, he says he was born in Juarez, Mexico) -- who succeeds, against all odds, as a performer in a profession that would seem about as unwelcoming as you could imagine.

This would as a Luchador -- a wrestler in Mexico, that land of extreme macho -- who is very openly and quite obviously gay. Cassandro's rise and career were anything but easy, as we learn (rather haltingly and far from completely, given Ms Losier's non-inquiring style) during the course of the documentary.

The filmmaker, shown at right, asks few questions and seems content to simply tag along with her subject as he goes about his life and work. Fortunately this is almost enough to fill the 78-minute running time, while making sure that our time passes with reasonable entertainment and interest.

Cassandro (above, right, and below, on top) is a guy given to flamboyant costumes and make-up but who has learned enough tricks of the trade to become a world champion of the National Wrestling Alliance, engaging in kicks and flips that looked pretty spectacular to these maybe somewhat naive eyes. He also bravely refused to wear a mask obscuring his face, as do so many other of these Luchadores (see photo at bottom).

We meet the wrestler's siblings and father (mom is dead, and there is a most unusual scene at her graveside during which some hired musicians play a tune, as her children honor their mom), and we hear about some of the hardships Cassandro encountered along his road to fame.

There's a European tour that includes Paris and London and gives us a clue to how popular is this kind of wrestling abroad. Losier has integrated archival footage into her own filming, so we view the past almost as much as we do the present. This may very well be Cassandro's choice, as it soon becomes clear that his career is coming to an end, thanks to so many injuries -- concussions and various operations -- that are stealing away his ability to perform.

You might wish that Losier had questioned things a bit more (maybe she did, and answers were not forthcoming) as to why, after ignoring his son for decades, Cassandro's father suddenly came back into his life, or if our famous wrestler has (or had) any kind of personal life. Was there ever a love interest or partner for this guy?

Well, we do get a look at some mineral baths and mysticism, the AA and NA key rings attesting to his sobriety over years, and a wonderful-but-unsettling array of old photos of Cassandro's career mixed in with x-rays of his many injuries. Interestingly, Losier saves the best for the last: a series of poses by our boy/man in which we are finally allowed to see him looking more real, more genuine than anywhere else in the entire film. It's a lovely way to end the documentary, and an oddly memorable one, too.

From Film Movement, in mostly the English language, Cassandro the Exotico! opens this Friday, July 19, in New York City at The Metrograph, with an expansion to another 15 cities over the weeks to come. The Los Angeles area will get a look when the film opens on August 2 at Laemmle's Glendale. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here then scroll down.

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