Review: ‘Cassandro the Exotico!’ celebrates the battles of a gay luchador

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With camp grace and bulldog ferocity, El Paso-born luchador Cassandro took the Mexican wrestling world by storm starting in the 1990s as its first openly gay performer, a popular champion on the drag-tinged exotica circuit whose feathered, colorful appearance charmed alongside his killer, pile-driving athleticism.

Now he’s the subject of French curator/filmmaker Marie Losier’s loving, loose documentary “Cassandro the Exotico!,” an impressionistic 16mm portrait in which the now fortysomething star finds grappling with imminent retirement much harder to process than masked challengers. For a gay kid in a macho culture whose growing up was marked by targeted abuse and substance addiction, the thrill of lucha libre was “like a free therapy session,” and the gloriously coiffed entertainer’s love for his art seems inexorably entwined with the pride he takes in being sober since 2003.

He’s as excitable in the throes of his pre-show routine as he is dropkicking opponents or executing a dazzling flip — he even beams with joy leading a class of luchador-loving fans hoping to replicate his moves. But the toll his profession has taken on his body, requiring multiple surgeries, ultimately creates a different kind of pain management — one psychic as much as physical — and it lends Losier’s intimate mélange of observation, music-laden montage and dreamlike fantasy a uniquely artful compassion toward the nontraditionally lived life. “Cassandro,” which recalls the grabbed verve of a ‘60s-era verité snapshot, charts the reluctant dimming of this extravagant icon with affectionate energy and lasting poignance.


In English and Spanish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 2, Laemmle Glendale