Long before America accepted the Luchadore as a part of modern wrestling, Lucha Libre has been an immense force of the wrestling world. It’s broken so many barriers and allowed the culture to seep through, even integrating what’s known as the “Exótico.” Cassandro is a kind of luchadore who mixes the art form of drag along with the art form of professional wrestling. Often times Cassandro is no different than Gorgeous George or Ric Flair, but he’s different in the way he embraces his homosexuality so openly and absolutely without apology.
The latest from Marie Losier puts the spotlight on gender-bending LGBTQ+ performer. 47-year-old Saul Armendariz. Known in the wrestling ring as Cassandro, he is the openly gay champion of Mexico’s exotico wrestling circuit, a subgenre featuring competitors in drag and generous doses of camp vamping between back-breaking suplexes. Famed as much for his flamboyant drag and sky-high pompadour as for his show-stopping kicks and flips, Cassandro’s trailblazing ascent as one the industry’s first openly gay wrestlers has resonated internationally for a quarter century. Losier follows the “Liberace of the Lucha Libre” in his final years of competition, struggling with opponents, and the cruel passage of time.
“Cassandro, The Exótico!” is a lot less about the art of wrestling and about the fearlessness of Saul Armendariz, a man who has taken his love for wrestling and used it to topple his fear of bigotry and prejudice. When we meet him, he’s a man facing middle age who is just not as fast and spry as he used to be. As he meets up with director Losier, he begins showing his wear and tear, but refuses to admit defeat because of his inherent passion for the sport. “Cassandro, The Exótico!” is an often somber affair that takes a lot of time to explore the difficulty that Saul has endured during his life as an open homosexual.
From being disowned by his father, then re-connecting with him, then breaking a ton of barriers in a sport that’s celebrating for being so butch and masculine, Saul maintains good humor and considers his hardships badges of honor. Director Losier is able to dig deep in to his more personal triumphs and pit falls as well as his addiction to the art of wrestling even as his health wanes. Overall, I wish we could have spent a lot more time exploring his work as a luchadore and his experiences competing. That said, director Marie Losier offers a bold, charming, and unique sports documentary about a true trailblazer.