Cassandro, The Exotico!

Cassandro, The Exotico!


Director: Marie Losier

Cast: Saul ‘Cassandro’ Almendariz

Runtime: 73 minutes

Synopsis: After 26 years of spinning dives and flying uppercuts in the ring, Cassandro, the star of the gender-bending cross-dressing Mexican wrestlers known as the Exoticos, is far from retiring.

Portraiture is central to the work of French-born, New York-based artist, director and cinematographer Marie Losier.  Her films and videos are shown at museums, galleries, biennials and festivals.  She has made a number of film portraits about avant-garde directors, musicians and composers, such as the Kuchar brothers, Guy Maddin, Richard Foreman, Tony Conrad, Genesis P-Orridge, Alan Vega and Felix Kubin.

“The texture and the feeling of film is important to me. I was a painter before, so film is kind of a different medium of painting, but in movement.” (Marie Losier)

In Cassandro, The Exotico!, Losier captures body and soul of the gay luchador with absolute warmth and empathy, splendidly reflecting his flamboyance and resilience with her 16mm images.

El Paso-born luchador Saúl Armendáriz (Cassandro) took the Mexican wrestling world by storm, starting in the 1990s, as its first openly gay performer. He was a popular charismatic champion on the drag-tinged exotica circuit, whose feathered, colourful appearance coupled with his killer, pile-driving athleticism made him a star.

He is a former NWA World Welterweight and UWA World Lightweight Champion. Describing himself as ‘the Liberace of luchador’, Cassandro had suffered a lot by being openly gay while most exóticos – male wrestlers dressed in drag – were straight and he is credited with changing the lucha libre.

In this impressionistic 16mm portrait, the now 50 years old star finds imminent retirement much harder to process than masked challengers. For a gay kid in a macho culture, whose growing up was marked by targeted abuse and substance addiction, the thrill of lucha libre was “like a free therapy session,” and the gloriously coiffed entertainer’s love for his art seems inexorably entwined with the pride he takes in being sober since 2003.

“Miracles happen for those who believe.” (Cassandro)

Cassandro is as excitable during his pre-show routine, as he rehearses dropkicking opponents or executing a dazzling flip. He is in his element, beaming with joy while leading a class of luchador-loving fans hoping to replicate his moves, or touring in London wearing his favourite flamboyant outfit inspired by his ultimate heroine Lady Di. But he also relates the toll his profession has taken on his body, requiring multiple surgeries, and head concussions which involve psychic as well as physical pain management.

Losier’s compassionate portrait vividly presents Cassandro’s non traditionally lived life.

Cassandro, The Exotico! shows appropriate verve as it charts the reluctant dimming of this extravagant icon with affectionate energy and lasting poignancy.

Streaming on: MUBI

Images courtesy of: Film Movement


Streaming on: MUBI