Dance of the Forty One (Spanish: El baile de los 41) premiered on 12th May 2021 on Netflix. Directed by David Pablos, written by Monika Revilla and produced by Pablo Cruz and El Estudio. Based on true events, the film stars Alfonso Herrera, Mabel Cadena, Emiliano Zurita, Fernando Becerril, and Paulina Álvarez Muñoz alongside other cast members.
Dance of the Forty One premiered on November 1 2020, at the closing event of the Morelia International Film Festival. Following this, the premiere for the general public was on November 19 2020, at Cinépolis cinemas in Mexico.
Dance of the Forty One – A True Story
Dance of the Forty One is based on the real-life society-scandal that took place in Mexico back in the 20th century under the Presidentship of Porfirio Díaz. Needless to say, back then society had zero tolerance for Queer folks and would call them terrible names – the list is endless. The incident that Dance of the Forty One takes into account is an illegal raid that took place while the annual ball of a secret society with 42 men commenced on 17 November 1901 in Colonia Tabacalera, Mexico.
The sight the police officers came across upon the raid was nothing but shocking to them as they saw queer folks dress up as drag queens and more. According to reports 42 men were arrested but only 4 ended in the public eye, there were rumours that Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, son-in-law of President Porfirio Díaz was also one of the attendees. Of the 41 men arrested for “offence to morals and good manners”, most paid for their freedom leaving only 12 men to be sent to work in Yucatán. But before it all these men were rebuked, humiliated, thrashed, and then shipped off to prisons to atone for their sins for being what they are!.
The scandal was called “the invention of the homosexuality in Mexico”. It was big as various names and congressmen were a part of the same. It is due to this scandal that Mexico, for the first time ever, openly talked about the LGBTQ+ community. The event was mocked, frowned upon, and satirized in the popular media of the era giving these men the title of ‘41 Maricones’.
Society Against Queers
Dance of the Forty One shows us the same incident through the eyes of Ignacio, who serves as our protagonist for a major part of the film. Ignacio is a nobleman, a Congressman who is respected and honoured and who is soon to marry the President’s daughter Amanda but under the guise of morality and honour is his sexuality which is frowned upon. Therefore, Ignacio would rather keep it a secret and lead a life like ‘normal’ acceptable men. He uses Amanda as his way to lead his double life and grow into a position of power.
But it not soon after their marriage that their forced sexual and emotional compatibility, combined with Ignacio’s frequent night outs, start bothering Amanda. After all, she is the wife. While Ignacio leads a double life and finds his home in Evaristo, Amanda falls sick, sulks, and worries about the fact that whether Ignacio is cheating on her. It is not soon after that she decides to barge into Ignacio’s workspace, for now they even sleep in separate rooms, and check his letters.
It is here that she finds out about Evaristo and threatens Ignacio and asks for a child but Ignacio is not ready for the same. As the film progresses and the raid is conducted we see the emotional dilemma and humiliation these characters go through with the end of a beautiful budding love story between Ignacio and Evaristo. As these men are paraded in front of people who abuse them and eventually beat them the following public speech is read out loud and it’s inhumane.
“Those present here are an example of the putrefaction that must be eradicated from our society. May the chastisement of these sick people serve as an example for all those who seek to go against the principles of morality. Let it be clear. Filthy, evil weed will be uprooted without any hesitation. For the good of our society and the safety of our families.”
When I started watching Dance of the Forty One, I had no idea that I was signing up for a film that is so powerful, impactful, and chaotically calm. Each and every emotion in the film is captured carefully and not only through words but eyes and actions too. Director David Pablos has brought on-screen a period masterpiece that is intricately designed in terms of character, setting, and costume designs. The film catches your eye and possibly transports you into the storyline. The 20th-century aesthetic is tapped in the film with absolute perfection.
Herrera and Zurita as Ignacio and Evaristo are priceless and it is their dedication and understanding of the role that the character feel alive and real. The fact that the entire house of cards Evaristo ad Ignacio built was knocked off by no one but Amanda is painful. There is this scene in the film where Amanda forces herself on Ignacio and says that she will cure him and it is one of the most disturbing and saddening moments.
By the end of Dance Of The Forty One, Amanda is successful in keeping Ignacio with him no matter how broken he might be. She has him and that’s all that matters to her. The last 20 minutes of the film are hard to get through without tearing up and getting goosebumps. The torture and loss of Evaristo somehow ended up feeling like a personal loss. Amanda, without even flinching, breaks the news of Evaristo’s death to Ignacio while he sits stoned and tears up. Instantly afterwards she asks him whether he wants to go to the Opera premiere or the summer house.
Cadena as Amanda portrays the rightful image of a woman with the country’s moral high ground with utmost brilliance. Her character is stern, insecure, and authoritative and Cadena brings all that to the screen.
It is in moments like this where we see the emotional stubbornness of characters like Amanda or President Diaz who are ready to go to any extent of making life miserable just because they believe queer folks are nothing but abominations. There is beauty and aesthetic in Ignacio and Evaristo’s love story that never finds an anchor, like thousands of other queer lovers who lose their lives for nothing but basic human biology.
Stream It or Skip It
STREAM IT! Dance of the Forty One is one of those period films that you need to watch right now. The film is so intricately designed and detailed in every frame that you can’t help but stay hooked and feel with the characters.
Dance of the Forty One is streaming now on Netflix.
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