Saúl (Gael García Bernal) is a gay wrestler who performs for his local lucha libre matches. Wanting to evolve from his typical role as a El Topo, he develops the persona of Cassandro, a flamboyant “exótico” whose feminine energy taunts his more macho luchador opponents in the ring. Exóticos usually elicit boos from the audience and ultimately lose the match. But Cassandro wants to change that. As Saúl/Cassandro works with a new trainer on his skills, he grapples with his relationship with his in-the-closet boyfriend, his distant and homophobic father and his ailing mother.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams, Cassandro is based on the true story of wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, known as the Liberace of lucha libre. Gael García Bernal delivers one of the most spirited performances I’ve ever seen. He truly embodies this character, giving Saúl gravitas and Cassandro verve. The film conveys a strong message of acceptance and joy in individual expression. This one will be a crowd pleaser for sure.
Cassandro premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
This crowd pleaser will have viewers reaching for the tissues. Directed by Christopher Zalla, Radical is based on the true story of Sergio Juárez Correa, a teacher from Matamoros, Mexico who made a huge impact on the sixth grade students at Jose Urbina Elementary School. Eugenio Derbez stars as Sergio, a newcomer to the area who has a “radical” teaching methodology. When he takes over the sixth grade class of an impoverished school, he throws all the rules out the window. His unconventional methods spark the curiosity of kids who were otherwise expected to drop out of school within the next few years.
The movie spotlights three kids in particular. Nico is being groomed to become part of the local drug cartel. But he soon takes an interest in science, especially in boats, and hopes he can stay in school a bit longer to avoid a life of crime. Lupe is the oldest sibling of four and the expectation is that she help her parents with the care of her youngest. She is really interested in philosophy, especially the work of John Stuart Mill, but her intellectual journey puts her at odds with her family’s expectations. Sergio’s top student is Paloma, a bright young mind with an interest in aerospace engineering. She shows a lot of potential but is beholden to her responsibility as the sole caretaker of her sick father.
Eugenio Derbez really shines as the Sergio. He conveys a great sense of empathy and caring that demonstrates the impact a good teacher can have on students. The film as a whole really celebrates education. It also offers a sobering revelation that potential does not necessarily guarantee opportunity.
I could see Radical movie being the next CODA. However, given the limited appeal of foreign-language movies—Radical is in Spanish—I worry that not enough people will watch this terrific film. Radical is a bit on the longer side and could use some trimming. The ending is both awe-inspiring and heart-breaking. My hope is that this reaches a broader audience and that this will help the school get the resources it needs.
Radical premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
When Oscar de la Hoya and Julio César Chávez went head-to-head in the boxing ring, it was an event. Referred to as the “Ultimate Glory”, this 1996 match not only pitted two of the most talented boxers against each other, it also started a cultural war. Julio César Chávez was the pride and joy of Mexico. He holds the record of the longest undefeated streak which began with his very first professional match. He was a champ that Mexicans could get behind. Oscar de la Hoya represented the expats. The Mexicans who left their home country years ago to seek opportunities in the States. De la Hoya showed promise at an early age and admired the great Chávez. But the Mexicans scored de la Hoya. Despite his 100% Mexican heritage and being fluent in Spanish, they felt he wasn’t Mexican enough. Not like Chávez. So when it came to that fateful day in 1996, Chávez stood with his country rallying behind him. But de la Hoya came armed with youthful vigor and a secret weapon: a brilliant coach who taught him how to take Chávez down.
Directed by Eva Longoria Bastón, La Guerra Civil expertly demonstrates not only the importance of the Chávez vs de la Hoya fight but also how the careers of these two boxing champions were intrinsically tied to their cultural identities. Both Chávez and de la Hoya were interviewed for the documentary along with sports journalists, latinx celebrities, family members and various experts. There is an air of familiarity in the film. Perhaps the friendly vibe prevented the documentary from going more in-depth into serious matters involving the two subjects including their drug addictions and various tragedies. These are briefly mentioned but not discussed at length.
The documentary is bilingual with interviewees speaking English and Spanish.
La Guerra Civil premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Based in Mexico City, forensic cleaner Donovan Tavera does the work that few others are willing to do. With the highest respect for the deceased, Tavera will come into a home and clean up the aftermath, offering loved ones one of the final steps in the healing process. Directed by Louise Monlaü, The New York Times documentary short The Death Cleaner/El limpiador, paints a portrait of a unique businessman who offers a compassionate service. This short is available to watch on YouTube (player embedded below).
The Death Cleaner/El limpiador premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of the Shorts Competition.
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Between the years of 1993 and 2005, hundreds of women were brutally murdered, many discovered mutilated in the dessert and others never to be recovered. This violence against women in particular came from two dangerous forces: a drug cartel that wields incredible power still to this day and a deeply entrenched culture of machismo. Although the women of Ciudad Juarez live in constant fear of violence, they still manage to survive and thrive. For some, they find physical, emotional and mental strength as luchadoras: female Lucha Libre wrestlers known for wearing colorful costumes and masks in the ring.
Directed by Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim, Luchadoras is a powerful documentary that follows three women wrestlers, Lady Candy, Baby Star and Mini Sirenita, as they transcend their circumstances and find strength through their sport. The resiliency of these women is astounding. A must-see for anyone seeking out feminist documentaries or who were inspired by stories like GLOW on Netflix.
Trigger warning: the film discusses violence against women. For those with hearing sensitivities like myself, there are several scenes in which the low battery chirp from a fire alarm can be heard.
Luchadoras had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.