Cassandro, the Exotico! review – melancholic portrait of wrestling star

Film-maker Marie Losier gives us a brief, impressionistic documentary portrait of the Mexican wrestling star who describes himself as the “Liberace of lucha libre”: Saúl Armendáriz, who goes by the stage-name Cassandro – a handle with ominous associations that he does not discuss.

Cassandro is an exótico, an overtly gay wrestler whose very purpose is to tease his super-macho opponents in the ring. Approaching his 50s, with a string of hair-raising injuries (he has been hospitalised eight times for concussion), and in recovery for alcohol and drug issues, Cassandro is having to wind down the high-impact part of his career. Now he’s doing more coaching, touring, media work and public appearances. (His tour stopover in London sees him wearing an outfit inspired by his heroine: “Lady Di.”) But the imminent end to his warrior-phase in the ring inspires real melancholy in Cassandro with fears about falling off the wagon.

There are many shots of him schooling young people in various techniques, including the vital art of diving out of the ring. But there are also gloomy shots of him ruminating silently in his lonely, chaotic house.

Related: Meet Cassandro, the drag queen star of Mexico’s wrestling circuit

Losier’s previous documentary, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, about artist Genesis P Orridge and their partner, Lady Jaye, looked at similar ideas connected with gender. This film is a diverting study of Cassandro’s belief in himself as a dramatic, suffering character, in art as in life.

I couldn’t help remembering Roland Barthes’ comments in his essay collection, Mythologies, about the wrestling bouts he witnessed in seedy Paris halls, with their cast of characters as fixed as those in the commedia dell’arte; Barthes pondered the character of “Orsano (an effeminate teddy boy first seen in a blue and pink dressing gown) … a vindictive salope, or bitch …” Cassandro is gentler than that.

Cassandro, the Exotico! is available on Mubi from 18 May.