From the first time many of us saw Gael García Bernal onscreen, in “Amores Perros” or “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” we knew he had something special. A little spark they used to call “star quality.” In Almodóvar’s “Bad Education,” Iñárritu’s “Babel,” and more recently, Larraín’s “Ema,” Bernal was never anything less than riveting.
With his performance in “Cassandro” (Amazon Studios), Bernal has the potential to receive his first Academy Award nomination in a lead role. The movie is based on the life story of gay luchador (Mexican wrestler) Saúl Armendáriz (Bernal) who made the professional decision to wrestle as a flamboyant “exotico” called Cassandro. Initially wrestling as El Topo in a Ciudad Juarez auto repair shop that doubled as a “sacred lucha libre ring,” Saúl grew tired of constantly losing, as well as the accompanying homophobic slurs.
Nightly crossing the border back to El Paso, Texas where he lived with his single mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), he watched telenovelas with her while she did her work laundering and mending other people’s clothes. After seeing “exotico” Big Beltran dressed in drag in the ring, Saúl, who came out at 15 to his accepting mother, decides to pursue that side of wrestling. Training with Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), who wrestles as Lady Anarquia, he also gets encouragement from her to wrestle as an “exotico.”
Taking his stage name from the telenovela “Kassandra,” Saúl christens himself Cassandro. Emboldened by his new luchador persona, Saúl approaches Gerardo (hot actor Raúl Castillo) who wrestles as El Commandante. Saúl is attracted to him, and Gerardo, who is married and has a couple of kids, shares Saúl’s feelings. The pair begins a clandestine sexual relationship.
Meanwhile, Saúl is taken under the wing of bar owner and entrepreneur Lorenzo (Joaquín Cosio) and his associate Felipe (Bad Bunny). They arrange Cassandro’s matches and begin to propel him to stardom in the wrestling realm.
But drama lurks at every turn. Yocasta is obsessed with Eduardo (Robert Salas), a married man with whom she had an affair (regardless of his being “a lot into Jesus”) resulting in the birth of Saúl. Additionally, Saúl’s relationship with Gerardo is at risk because Gerardo’s wife found out about them and is threatening to leave him and take the children with her.
Just as his star continues to rise, tragedy strikes. Yocasta, who wasn’t taking her medication as prescribed, dies of a heart attack. The house he had hoped to buy for himself and Yocasta was sold to someone else. However, all is not lost. Saúl has a long overdue confrontation with his father. And, in what turned out to be one of his biggest matches before a crowd of more than 20,000 fans in Mexico City, he loses to the legendary Son of Santo, but is treated like a winner and a hero by his opponent. Like the titular character, “Cassandro” is a triumph.