Gael García Bernal Flies High In This Luchador Biopic [Sundance]

At the very least, Cassandro is quickly able to earn the respect of the crowds, who transition from hurling slurs at him to chanting his name after they see him in action for a few minutes. As an openly gay wrestler who refuses to succumb to the typical formula, he blazes a trail and earns the adulation of hordes of fans, which he drinks in thirstily. Somehow, validation feels good in a place like this. As Cassandro becomes more of a success, we learn more about Saúl’s fraught relationship with his father, his complicated relationship with his mother, and get a peek into Saúl’s ill-fated affair with a fellow Lucha Libre wrestler who’s married to a woman.

García Bernal does almost all of his own stunts here (unless the budget is much higher than it appears and tons of money went into hyper-convincing face replacement), spinning and flipping and leaping and kicking and slamming and falling, and Ross Williams shoots all of the wrestling scenes with the appropriate amount of energy and verve. The movie is at its best when Cassandro is in the ring, turning the tides of the jeering and cheering crowds, but thanks to Marcelo Zarvos’ excellent and smartly employed score, full of forlorn horns, the quieter moments also resonate.

There are a few aspects of the script that seem to be setups for payoffs that never quite come (Saúl’s drug use with a character played by Bad Bunny appears to be a big deal, but there’s no real reckoning or even self-awareness about it), and I was left unsatisfied by a couple of subplots that I felt could have used more attention. But ultimately, “Cassandro” is a solid drama that provides another strong showcase for Gael García Bernal’s many talents, and marks a largely successful transition into scripted storytelling for Roger Ross Williams.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

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