Gael Garcia Bernal in Cassandro. Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
Wrestling in Mexico is many things. It is culture and tradition, but not only that. It can be very difficult to arrive at a universal definition. But this popular sport is also technical, rough, extreme, violent, athletic, male, masculine and can even still be sexist and misogynistic in some circles. If they were to flesh out these characteristics, it would most likely result in an imposing rival. However, Saúl Armendáriz, who is short in stature at 1.66 meters and has a small frame, did not shy away from attacking head-on and taking adversity in a stranglehold. He managed to escape from all the demons he grew up with and those that would come later through wrestling.
With golden, lush and fluffy hair as she moved her hips flirtatiously, dressed in a wrestling leotard and a colorful robe, Armendáriz made her way to the ring at the Arena Revolución Ring in Mexico City. It was January 28, 1990, an unforgettable date for him. At just 22 years old, with a seductive and fun attitude that disguised the nervousness on her face with makeup – glitter on her eyelids, mascara on her eyelashes and outlined eyebrows – she wanted to compete against No. 1 for the world lightweight championship One but Him. Son of the saint, heir to the most famous silver mask in Mexico and part of the Olympus of wrestling gods.
Although he was defeated that night against the Son of the Immortal Idol, he earned the respect and admiration of the thousands of people who filled the place. It was there that the artistic and sporting name of this young man from El Paso, Texas, was forged, and Saúl Armendáriz gave birth to the legend of Cassandro, whose name lends itself to the film of the same name starring Gael García Bernal in This Man. and his time in the rings, which made him an icon of Mexican and world wrestling culture.
Advertising poster for “Cassandro”. Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
Roger Ross Williams, director of the film, says that when he met Cassandro he fell in love with him and his story, which he considers inspiring. “You can’t deny it has an amazing history. It’s that of someone conquering machismo in this world of fighting and doing so on his own terms, as an openly gay man. “It’s inspiring and I love telling stories like that and it was important to me to capture the culture of the border region,” says Ross Williams.
Armendáriz (El Paso, USA, 1970), like many children in Mexico, began to enjoy wrestling through the El Santo films. This curiosity led him, even though he came from the other side of the border, to the municipal gym of Ciudad Juárez at the age of 16 to train as a fan. The thought of becoming a professional even crossed his mind. His heroes weren’t Superman and Wonder Woman, “they were flesh and blood.” Think of Zorro and Látigo, two wrestlers from the local Juárez scene. Such dedication led him to pursue a career.
In 1988 he made his debut under a mask as Mister Romano, a gladiator figure. However, I didn’t want to be technical or harsh about the difference in the struggle between the good and honorable versus the evil and fraudsters. He wanted to be exotic. This type of fighters used to have a different characteristic as they were men, mostly heterosexual, who dressed in drag and had a feminine attitude. They mainly caused jeers and boos, but Armandáriz wanted to change that.
Bad Bunny and Gael García Bernal in a still from “Cassandro.” Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
“From the age of five, I realized that I had a different sexual identity,” says Cassandro in an interview on the show Experiences with El Hijo del Santo. He felt that the mask they put on him did not reflect his essence. Her first exotic name was Rosa Salvaje, in honor of the soap opera of the same name starring Verónica Castro. “Cassandro was a man who portrayed neither a lady nor a man. “He was supposed to be an exotic character who would praise Mexican wrestling as a worthy representative of the gay and exotic movement,” Armendáriz recalls in the same paragraph.
Through the fight with El Hijo del Santo, Cassandro gained the reputation of being an exotic “with a lot of schooling and mastery in wrestling.” The heir to the Silver Mask, who he met on two other occasions – one of them at the Louvre Museum in Paris – told him about their first meeting: “What fascinated me about your personality is that you are a fighter. Very serious and very good. “You know how to fight on screen, and you are not vulgar.”
Maintaining this detail was important for the production, starting with the choice of the main role, which fell into the hands of García Bernal, who was accompanied by other Mexican actors such as Joaquín Cossio and Perla De la Rosa, as well as the American actor Raúl Castillo and the Puerto Rican Singer Bad Bunny. The director, Oscar winner in 2009 for the short film “Music by Prudence”, declares himself a fan of García Bernal and says that his performances in films such as Bad Education (2004) and Y tu madre Tambien (2001) were the compass for the election. .
“I never doubted Gael. He prepared and trained hard for months. He really learned how to fight in the ring. He worked with the fighters and took it very seriously. He shot most of his action scenes. “So when we see Cassandro fighting in the ring, it’s actually him doing it,” says Ross Williams.
The film was intended to be a reflection of not only their successes, but also their obstacles along the way. Ross Williams says that not only is the culture surrounding the fights a factor to consider, but also what being gay represented in a scene like this in the early ’90s. “I had a lot of problems because wrestling is very sexist. My makeup is my mask. I already come out this way because it’s part of my character. They used to criticize me a lot, that’s why I fell into an addiction, the atmosphere was very tense because it’s a battle of egos,” says Armendáriz.
Saul Armendariz and Gael García Bernal at the latest edition of the Sundance Festival in Utah (USA). Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)
The visual part, which Ross Williams says was worked on intensively in pre-production, had to be part of a world full of visual concepts and photographs that create an intimate portrait of Cassandro. “We were inspired by the culture of the border, the murals of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. A big inspiration was Juan Gabriel, a famous queer figure. “We recorded it all and used it in the film,” says the director.
Despite the four knee surgeries, eight hospital stays for brain attacks, stitches all over the body, a fracture of the plate and left tibia, a plate with eight nails, a severed meniscus and a synthetic bone, Armendáriz has a lot to offer. to be thankful. Wrestling was his escape. The one who allowed him to touch glory, like on November 29, 1992, when he became the Universal Wrestling Association’s lightweight champion – the first exotic to achieve this – and at the same time live hell with no one around him wanted to fight for the title. unfounded fear of becoming infected with HIV simply because of sexual orientation. “Blessed wrestling has given me everything. I am “the Liberace of wrestling,” he says in an interview with El Hijo del Santo.
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