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FilmWatch Weekly: Queer outsiders in ‘Mutt’ and ‘Cassandro,’ plus the charming British ‘Scrapper’ and much more

"Mutt," the first feature film by director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, follows a trans man in New York over the course of two days.

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Gael García Bernal and El Hijo del Santo in Cassandro.
Gael García Bernal and El Hijo del Santo in “Cassandro.” Photo: Alejandro Lopez Pineda © Amazon Content Services LLC

One takes place on the hard streets of New York City, the other in the cartoonishly garish universe of Mexican wrestling. Although the worlds they inhabit could hardly be more different, these two new films both depict queer outsiders trying to find their place in cultures that don’t quite know what to make of them.

Feña (Lío Mehiel), the protagonist of director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s first feature Mutt, is a young, recently transitioned trans man just trying to get by in the Big Apple. The movie follows him (the character uses he/him pronouns, while Mehiel uses they/them) over the course of an eventful couple of days, beginning with a phone call from his father, who is due to arrive from Chile for a visit. That night, Feña runs into an old boyfriend (from his pre-operative days), and the next morning his estranged, 14-year-old sister shows up on his doorstep, having run away from home.

It’s all rather a lot to pack into 36 hours, or into 87 minutes of running time, and the kinetic pace of Mutt recalls frenetic urban portraits such as Uncut Gems or Midnight Cowboy. Mehiel’s performance is raw, especially in scenes where the old boyfriend asks to see Feña’s top surgery scars and during heartfelt conversations with that runaway sister. There’s nothing especially groundbreaking here, other than the relative rarity of seeing stories about transmasculine characters, but Lungulov-Klotz, himself a transgender man of mixed cultural heritage, adroitly captures the liminality of Feña’s existence.

While Mutt was inspired by its director’s personal experience, Cassandro was inspired by a luchador named Saúl Armendáriz. In Mexican professional wrestling, known as lucha libre, most competitors wear masks and go by extravagant pseudonyms. Some wrestlers, however, known as exóticos, go maskless and dress in flamboyant drag. They have traditionally served as objects of homophobic ridicule in the overwhelming macho culture of lucha libre.

Which is where Armendáriz comes in. Cassandro, the narrative directing debut of veteran documentarian Roger Ross Williams, charts the rise of the openly gay wrestler who subverted stereotypical tropes to become known, inevitably, as “the Liberace of lucha libre.” Powered by his mother’s acceptance and love, Cassandro (as he dubs himself) rises through the ranks, culminating in a match against a foe known as the Son of Santo. (Santo being the seminal luchador, the Hulk Hogan of Mexico, famous enough that he—or someone wearing his iconic silver mask—appeared in no fewer than 50 B-movies with titles like Santo vs. the Vampire Women).

Cassandro is played by Gael García Bernal, which will not please those who prefer that gay characters be played by gay performers. But Bernal brings the right balance of wide-eyed determination and self-effacement to make the way Cassandro earns the respect of the fans and the wrestling establishment almost realistic. Williams’ filmography, which includes the Oscar-nominated Life, Animated, has focused on stories of resilience, but sometimes his need to inspire gets in the way of telling a nuanced story. (For instance, a quick read of Armendáriz’s Wikipedia page reveals that he attempted suicide prior to his match against Son of Santos, an event the movie elides.)

Mutt opens on Friday, Sept. 15, at Cinema 21. Cassandro opens on Friday, Sept. 15, at Living Room Theaters, and premiers on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 22.

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Another story of resilience unfolds in the endearing British import Scrapper. This time it’s a precocious 12-year-old girl named Georgie (Lola Campbell, in a remarkable screen debut) who demonstrates moxie. Since her mother died a few months earlier, Georgie has avoided the clutches of Social Services by deceiving them into thinking she’s being cared for by her uncle, Winston Churchill (the social workers are not the brightest). With her mate Ali (Alin Uzun, also a newcomer), she steals bikes and sells them to a local fence for food money while continuing to attend school.

This unsustainable, yet oddly admirable, scheme gets upended when Jason (Harris Dickinson), the father Georgie’s never known, appears out of the blue with the intention of re-entering her life. Barely an adult himself, he gives the pair advice on larceny while persisting, despite Georgie’s vicious scorn, in his efforts at belated parenting. Slight but full of life, and anchored by Campbell’s cheeky personification of the bravely bereaved Georgie, its infectious spirit bodes well for the future of director Charlotte Regan. (Opens on Friday, Sept. 15, at the Darkside Cinema in Corvallis, the Broadway Metro in Eugene, and the Salem Cinema.)

ALSO THIS WEEK

Rise: A Community Film Showcase: The Catalyst Film Collective and Women in Film: Portland present a selection of short films made by their members, including Kai Tillman’s Hey Man, Heather Older’s Above the Desert with No Name, Jinjing Tian’s Mary Anne & Frank, and others. A great chance to see heartfelt short films and vote on which one of them most deserves the $500 Audience Choice Award. (Cinema 21, Monday, Sept. 18)

Tokyo Pop: Director Fran Rubel Kuzui may be best known for helming the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, but this rediscovered indie flick from 1988 (her only other feature) showcases another plucky young heroine. An aspiring rock star (Carrie Hamilton) impulsively travels to Japan in pursuit of her dream, only to find fame and fortune more elusive than hoped. When she meets a local rocker whose band needs a new lead singer, things start looking up. (Hollywood Theatre, Friday through Sunday)

Jason Versus Freddy: Barbie and Oppenheimer got nothing on Freddy Kreuger and Jason Voorhees, and the pop-cultural rivalry that raged between the two slasher icons gets recognition with screenings of the first three films in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and the fourth, sixth, and tenth films in the Friday the 13th franchise, culminating in the ultimate showdown in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason. (Cinemagic, check website for dates and times.)

Friday: Punk rock legends play for mental hospital inmates in 1978 California in The Cramps & The Mutants: The NAPA State Tapes (Hollywood, through Thursday); Tim Robbins encounters a malicious chiropractor in Jacob’s Ladder (Academy, through Thursday); the cultural and economic power of coal mining in Appalachia is explored in the documentary King Coal (Darkside Cinema, through Thursday); Tom Hanks goes on an anti-crying tirade in A League of Their Own (Academy, through Thursday); Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (Eugene Art House); Elizabeth Berkeley dances just for you in Showgirls (Hollywood, through Sunday, 35mm)

Saturday: Underground weirdness boasting a John Waters blurb The Absence of Milk in the Mouths of the Lost, with director Case Esparros in attendance (Clinton Street); it’s not Toyotathon, but a two-day Godzillathon offers up a quartet of kaiju madness in anticipation of the upcoming Apple TV series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (Hollywood, also Sunday); The King of Rock’n’roll stars in King Creole (Cinema 21); Joan Crawford stars in the underrated 1952 film noir Sudden Fear opposite a very scary Jack Palance (Kiggins Theatre)

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Sunday: Silent expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with a live score from The Invincible Czars (Kiggins Theatre); Barry Levinson’s Rain Man (Eugene Art House, also Wednesday); Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (Living Room)

Monday: Brian Lindstrom’s masterful, heartbreaking, necessary documentary Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse (Clinton Street); Brian De Palma does his Vertigo riff and Frankie Goes to Hollywood in Body Double (Hollywood, through Thursday); Ethan Coen’s first film without his brother Joel is the documentary Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind (Hollywood)

Tuesday: 1979 Bollywood comedy classic Gol Maal (Clinton Street); the 1935 British sci-fi epic Transatlantic Tunnel (Darkside Cinema)

Wednesday: Church of Film presents Magic & Ecstasy, a selection of short works from Neapolitan filmmaker Luigi Di Gianni, who explored the relationship between pagan ritual and Catholicism during the 1960s and ’70s (Clinton Street); the clip anthology Punk City chronicles the often absurd portrayal of the punk rock scene in 1970s & ’80s pop culture (Hollywood)

Thursday: Finnish-born, Portland-based experimental auteur Antero Alli showcases his latest, Blue Fire (Clinton Street); to celebrate Stephen King’s birthday, a double feature of The Dark Half and Needful Things (Hollywood)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Nine Muses Law and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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