“DANCE OF THE 41”
A 19th-Century Queer Scandal
Set in 1901, the police in Mexico City are about to raid a secretive high-society event and arrest 42 men on the charge of homosexuality. Each of the men arrested that night held a prestigious place in society, especially Ignacio de la Torre, the son in law of the Mexican president Porfirio Díaz. The underground club they helped create is a mecca for those seeking to live a secretive and free life away from the public gaze. The number charged, humiliated and imprisoned is 41, with Ignacio walking free, his name removed from the night’s events.
The film looks at life before the raid, saving the police actions for a shocking and powerful final act. Ignacio has just married Amada Díaz (Mabel Cadena), the president’s daughter and his appointment to Congress is assured. However, Ignacio’s political ambitions hide a secret is life lived on the edge of society. His marriage a sham, but it opens doors that otherwise remain closed.
This soon becomes apparent to his wife, as he avoids the house, spends long nights at work, and struggles to give her sexual attention. Director David Pablos gives us a portrait of a gay man living two separate lives, one acceptable yet impossible and the other free yet full of risk. We also see the devastating effect on his wife, a woman who longs for his affection but feels betrayed by his absence and lack of touch. Her life is torn apart by a man who never loved her and is aloof, ambitious and intensely secretive. Both husband and wife are victims of a society where social rules and oppression dictate a person’s place and purpose.
As his marriage falls apart, Ignacio meets Evaristo (Emiliano Zurita), a handsome young lawyer. As their relationship grows, Ignacio brings Evaristo to an underground hidden gay where liberation and sexual freedom are the order of the day. Here, men can dress as women, freely engage in sex and discuss their lives. For Ignacio and Evaristo, the club becomes their refuge from the world around them. However, their relationship more difficult to hide. And it’s not long before Evaristo’s love letters are discovered by Amada.
Ignacio, Amada and Evaristo are all prisoners of society for differing reasons. For Ignacio and Evaristo, it is their sexuality, for Amada it is her gender. It is clear that Evaristo has the most to lose and his choice of a male sexual partner is his downfall.
Unfortunately we get no exploration of either impact or legacy. The fact that the raid leads to further police action against gay men and lesbians is not here and neither is the fate of the 41 arrested. There simply isn’t enough to tell the full story of the 41 men imprisoned that night and the one who would walk away.
Nonetheless, “Dance of the 41” is shot with stunning cinematography of a world of luxury, secrets and lies. The performances capture the complexity of a world where private and public life are in separate universes. While it may not quite deliver on all of its themes,the film isessential exploration of oppression, control, and forbidden love.