“MAGICAL REALISM ON CELLULOID”: INTERVIEW WITH MARIE LOSIER AND SAÚL ARMENDÁRIZ // BY PATRICIA RÍOS
“Do we love? Do we play?”. (The touch, Marie Losier)
On October 21, the Mexican premiere of Cassandro, the exotico!, directed by Marie Losier at the Clavijero Cultural Center, was held as part of the director’s retrospective at the III edition. After being premiered at the Cannes festival, in ACID, the documentary finally arrived at Mexico, home of the film’s protagonist, the exotic fighter Saúl Armendáriz, «Cassandro».
In an interview given four our editorial, both mentioned being excited about presenting the film in the capital of the State of Michoacan. «It was a challenge for me to see how Mexico reacted because it is all about Mexican culture,» the fighter mentions. The reactions were applause, cheers and congratulations. Both director and protagonist had the opportunity to talk with the public from Morelia on three occasions, and Losier was surprised to find people of all ages and contexts: «Being a foreigner in Mexico is wonderful because the audience is extremely warm and welcoming».
Losier’s films are a celebration of life. Similar to a dream, her stories immerse the viewer in a festivity of freedom, love and fun. Be it sirens, anthropomorphic animals, wrestling women or underground artists, Losier’s characters, inclined to art and revolution, enjoy their authenticity with a sense of humor, managing to challenge not only gender roles, but any category. She is involved in the whole process: costume design, set design, script, direction, editing, and sound design. Her favorite tool is the roll of 16mm, with which she keeps the surprise of the development and the addition of the sound.
She was born in France, lived for 22 years in New York and spent almost a decade recording the life of a man who lives in the duality between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez; for her, home is more important than nationality «I do not think of being French or American. This film is about Cassandro and the cinema, but I think it’s beautiful that Cassandro is in his country. The Mexican audience at the premiere felt immediately connected with him because they understand where he comes from».
Her work, strongly influenced by painting, is expressed in an audiovisual collage that follows her character with a deep and sweet intimacy, which she achieves after a long coexistence with her characters. «The beauty of my films is that I film my characters for many years, then everyone becomes a dear friend for life, and I think it’s something that the cinema can give, making a family even bigger, «says the director, who took seven years to make the documentary.
In her experience, Marie and Cassandro admit the challenges of working with people who feel so close, but also the advantages of creative chemistry «We play a lot! That’s what we have in common, we play and laugh» says the filmmaker with affection. Although the friendship between the two became stronger over the years, during Losier’s arduous record, the camera witnessed the fighter’s fall: «We went through many emotions, but it is part of life, of the process.» To which she replied: «Yes, there were difficult times, but that’s friendship. You are not just one thing, you are many, and in any case you resist, you keep company, you are patient, you have love. When you have love, everything flows. The key is not to judge. «
The dualities that Cassandro, the exotico! captured with charm and audacity are intertwined in a web of identities: «It’s not just that he’s an exotic fighter, it’s Cassandro and his culture, his relationship with Juarez and El Paso, with his family, being different layers of different personalities in terms of an inner battle that is also political, and simply, being a human being.» Thus, Losier’s portrait covers many facets of her protagonist’s life. His religion was professed through indigenous spiritual rituals and his Catholic roots and «after going to church, we went to wrestling,» says the protagonist in the documentary; his relationship with his childhood, memories and wounds; even moments when he would have preferred not to be filmed: «What Marie did is that it helped me go very deep in my heart and talk about things that I do not like to talk about or relive».
Losier’s interest in wrestling is based on her theatrical nature and comes from her childhood when she watched El Santo movies, so her transition to a country like Mexico, based on magical realism, was natural. When she lived in New York, it was easy for her going to Mexico City , where she used to attend the Arena Mexico to see live fights. It was here that she began to portray them, as can be seen in her short film Bim Bam Boom. Las luchas morenas (2014). It was also the time when she made contact with Cassandro, from whom she decided to make a documentary after a conversation they had in the trajineras of Xochimilco.
The filmmaker was interested in the fighter’s life thanks to her emotional duality, which she found all around her. «Mexico is a daily cinematic celebration of sadness and joy, overwhelmingly dramatic. Somehow I feel close to that. Life always goes from tears to laughter. You are sad, you live difficult moments, and at the same time you celebrate being alive, you celebrate creating, because creating helps you, as well as wrestling. For me, making movies is being alive. Register life is to make sense because you always take the best of it”, says the director referring to the similar importance of wrestling in the life of Cassandro, which helped him to move forward after years of abuse as a child:» The message that Marie gives through her camera is that if you fall, you have to get up and if you fall again, you get up again, it’s an internal war».
Cassandro has just celebrated 30 years of being a professional wrestler, a career in which he has been three times winner of the world and fought at the Louvre Museum; however, lately he has not spent much time in the ring: «I’d better be backstage creating new talents». He has earned the professional success and affection of the audience thanks to his talent as a fighter, which, despite being accompanied by a multiplicity of identities (as the director wants to show through her lens), it is not limited to his sexual orientation or gender identity: «In El Paso, my land, I am followed by many people and it has nothing to do with my exoticness, but because of my professionalism since I am a very good fighter, from a very good school and people are looking for me for something» says the fighter, who is currently teaching in Mexico, the United States and some European countries.
In the documentary you can listen to him talking about his sexual preference, machismo, and what it means to decide to wear makeup and diamonds in Mexican wrestling, and not a mask «I have earned my place and I will always represent my community where I have to be, because I will not let politics or a president define me. I am against the tide, but for a good cause because today these are not the times to kill each other, of bullying, of many things. Almost every day I can run into homophobes». Cassandro approaches diversity from the point of view of discrimination and activism in favor of the acceptance of sexualities: «My plan is to continue helping, passing on the message, not shutting up for my LGBT community because homosexuality it’s not a disease, but discrimination is».
On the other hand, diversity for Marie includes, but surpasses the sexual and the labels: «I do not like to put things in boxes, I hate being cataloged as ‘documentary’, ‘fiction’, ‘LGBT’, I like to be more open. There is a great diversity of people, of films, of creations, without hierarchy, without ‘more money’ or ‘less money’ «. Both, however, recognize human beings as a multiplicity of identities that lies on the foundations of universality: «we are culture, we are the places where we have lived, and yet we have all faced the challenges of being human».
When talking about the future, Cassandro said that in addition to promoting new fighters, he plans to remain an activist in favor of freedom and against discrimination «Life does not depend on what others accept, but on how to accept yourself, you have to walk your own way, but with beauty and a lot of serenity in these times of turbulence, wars, killings in Juarez and El Paso.» After her Retrospective at the Morelia Programa, Marie will return to teach cinema and continue with projects. «I love telling young people what I can do. I will also start from scratch for another movie, with the highs and lows. I hope it’s something beautiful.»
In addition, the artist will return to her roots in New York City for the exhibition of three programs of her short films and one of her never-before-seen archives at the MoMA, an event organized in celebration of the integration of her short films into the collection of the emblematic New Yorker museum. In addition, the artist will have a presentation entitled Animal Kingdom: Tales of Sweet and Bitter at the Metrograph: «New York is crazy. Every day there is a celebration of madness. Everyone I met, loved and filmed is crazy».