‘Cassandro the Exotico!’ Review: A Gay Luchador Body Slams Life | Modern Society of USA

‘Cassandro the Exotico!’ Review: A Gay Luchador Body Slams Life

‘Cassandro the Exotico!’ Review: A Gay Luchador Body Slams Life

The filmmaker Marie Losier shoots in 16 millimeter, and she clearly glories in the format. Not just the rich color saturation she squeezes from it, but the image artifacts many other camerapersons would deplore as defects. Frequently in her new documentary film, “Cassandro the Exotico!,” individual shots practically bristle with what’s called “hair in the gate” (stray fragments of celluloid that look as if they want to scour the bottom of the screen).

This visual approach is apt for the title subject of this film. Cassandro, born Saúl Armendáriz, is a practitioner of lucha libre — Mexican professional wrestling, which he performs in elaborate drag.

Pro wrestling, it could be argued, has always been drag-adjacent — we’re talking about men peacocking in tights here. But Cassandro, with his costumes, makeup and an often remarkably high pompadour, is as much a drag performer as he is a luchador.

Losier’s portrait of the performer takes an intimate, impressionistic approach. It opens with a Skype conversation between the filmmaker and the middle-aged Cassandro. He is nearly mesmerizing as he describes the spell that lucha libre cast on him when he was a misfit boy: At the live shows, he says, “You forget all the stuff that happened to you at home, at school … and of course me being gay, I loved the men.”

The glamour of Cassandro’s presentation is countered by the grunge of his world backstage. Cassandro often speaks to the camera while poised at what looks like the back staircase to a crumbling municipal building. And his home isn’t particularly spacious and filled with clutter; while giving a tour, Cassandro shows off years’ worth of “sobriety tokens,” and talks of how addiction nearly destroyed his life.

His devotion to wrestling — he’s been in the ring since he was barely 20 — hasn’t done wonders for his health, either. He frequently needs surgery, yet he swears to Losier that once he’s discharged from the hospital he doesn’t treat the pain with anything stronger than Ibuprofen. The last third of the movie shows the weary wrestler, visibly the worse for wear, attending a spiritual retreat and pondering his future.

“Cassandro the Exotico!” doesn’t stress a linear narrative for its hero, whom Losier clearly adores. This effervescent picture has an often infectious underground-movie aesthetic; my favorite manifestation comes early, in a sequence that juxtaposes Cassandro’s beaming face against a night sky full of fireworks.

Cassandro the Exotico!

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 13 minutes.

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