Movie Review – Dance of the 41
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
On November 17, 1901, the police performed an illegal raid of a private home in Mexico City. 41 men who were there got arrested. The 41 men were attending a dance or ball. There were no women there. It was a dance only for men. What was notable is that 19 of the men were dressed in women’s clothing. The men were deemed as gay or maricones, and presumably they were all homosexual. I’m not sure about the history of the LGBTQ movement in Mexico, but I’m sure there is some parallel to the movement in the United States. Homosexuality was certainly seen as immoral but also as illegal. Police raids were a common thing or became a common thing where they would go into a place and arrest men and women for being gay. Often, those raids would occur in public spaces like bars, bathhouses or parks. The most famous incident occurred at Stonewall Inn in 1969. However, there were plenty of incidents that took place before that. One of the earliest in the U.S. occurred in New York City in 1903 at the Ariston bathhouse.
These police raids weren’t always notable or they didn’t always make the front page news or especially national headlines. The only time it would is if a famous person was involved. We saw that play out in the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential (2015). Tab Hunter was a young gay man in Hollywood, hiding his sexuality. He was invited to a dance party one night in 1950, which police raided and arrested him. Hunter’s arrest didn’t make the news for five years and the only reason it did is because he had become a famous actor. However, his arrest and his homosexuality were protected for years due to the fact that he had connections in Hollywood that were able to keep his name out of the news for a while. We see a similar thing happen here.
Alfonso Herrera (The Exorcist and Sense8) stars as Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, a real-life businessman who lived in Mexico City from the late 19th century until the early 20th century. We don’t really see Ignacio being a businessman, but it’s clear that he’s a wealthy individual. What we see is him being a politician. He’s presumably a congressman. When we first see him, he’s attending a fancy party being thrown either for or by the president of Mexico, or it’s simply a party that the president is attending. It’s an opportunity for Ignacio to meet the president, not simply for political or professional reasons but instead for personal reasons. Ignacio is dating the president’s daughter.
He’s planning to marry the president’s daughter, Amada Díaz, played by Mabel Cadena. She wants to be a good daughter and a good wife. As such, she wants to have a lavish and traditional wedding in a church. She also wants to have a child with Ignacio. Unknown to her though, Ignacio is having affairs with men. In fact, he needs alcohol and masturbation where he likely fantasizes about men in order to have sex with her. It’s clear that he’s not attracted to her physically. He might think she’s beautiful but his orientation is clearly gay. Even though the film doesn’t depict it, it’s assumed that he’s only marrying her out of convenience but it’s clearly not out of love. He might also be marrying her as an ambitious move for more political power.
Emiliano Zurita co-stars as Evaristo Rivas aka Eva, a young sexy lawyer who works for a lot of politicians or works in politics, which is how he meets Ignacio. It’s obvious that Eva has feelings for Ignacio. Ignacio recognizes this and invites him into a secret club for gay men. When Eva enters this club or secret society, it’s like the gay version of Eyes Wide Shut (1999). At first, it feels like he’s walking into a trap and ironically it does end up being a trap. However, it mostly comes across as an underground but welcoming place for gay or bisexual men, gender nonconforming men, cross-dressers, drag queens and etc.
Going back to the idea of a trap, this film, directed by David Pablos, is about showing the various traps in which gay men found themselves. It’s an international and more posh spin on the setting, landscape and themes in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Instead of two men going to some isolated place in the wilderness, the two men here can just go down the street to a really nice home in order to be themselves and express their same-sex attraction. The two men here aren’t isolated. They’re in fact surrounded by other gay men who provide them with a sense of community. However, the isolated wilderness provided a sense of freedom or kind of escape. For the two men here, because they don’t go far, it’s arguable the sense of freedom they have.
This film doesn’t go into the ramifications of what the police raid did to Mexican society. Yet, according to Mexican soldier-turned-historian, Francisco L. Urquizo, the number 41, as a result of the press going wild with the 41 men arrested, has become an invalid and offensive number. Urquizo also said that no division, regiment, or army battalion in Mexico is given the number 41. No payroll has a number 41. Municipal records show no houses with the number 41. No hotel or hospital has a room 41. Nobody celebrates their 41st birthday, going straight from 40 to 42. No vehicle is assigned a number plate with 41, and no police officer will accept a badge with that number. All this was according to Urquizo who wrote about it in the 1960’s.
Fernando Becerril plays Porfirio Díaz, the real-life president of Mexico from 1876 to 1911. His role isn’t that prominent, but his character goes to the idea referenced in Tab Hunter Confidential. What’s revealed is that Mexico demonized the number 41 in a highly homophobic way, but, in reality, there were actually 42 men at that dance party that was raided. The reason people think it was only 41 is due to a decision that President Díaz makes. Going back to the idea of traps, President Díaz creates a trap in order to avoid one himself. Even though we see the wealth and the privilege of the men involved here, as opposed to the poverty of the men in Brokeback Mountain, we soon learn that the men involved here are basically birds in a gilded cage.
El Baile de los 41.
Rated TV-MA for sex, nudity, language and smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.
Available on Netflix.