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Dance of the Forty One film review


Directed by: #DavidPablos

Written by: #MonikaRevilla

The poster depicting the forty-one men clad in tuxedos and ball gowns, tightly squeezed together.

At first glance of the logline from Netflix, I thought Dance of the Forty One was to be some melodramatic telenovela full of overacting and ludicrous tropes. My wild imagination was immediately proven wrong as the historical significance along with director David Pablos’s serious humanist vision takes forth. The eponymous title refers to a watershed scandal in Mexican society as in the early 1900s, a band of forty-one men were arrested at a private party where several men were also discovered to be dressed in women’s clothing. Gaining nationwide attention for the arrests of homosexual men but also due to members belonging to the upper echelons of Mexican society. Pablos’ film explores the culture of this society and its secrets leading up to their final dance through the eyes of the rumoured forty-second participant, Ignacio de la Torre, the son-in-law of the Mexican president.

Beyond Ignacio’s dilemmas in maintaining his public life and ambitions against his marital troubles with his wife Amada portrayed by Mabel Cadena, he enters into a romantic relationship with Evaristo Rivas. This society the forty-one belong to is introduced through Evaristo’s induction and at first it may seem a little Eyes Wide Shut, but Pablos focuses on the love, pleasure, and distraction these men gladly share. Upfront there’s a lot to appreciate about Dance of the Forty One from presentation to its representation but Pablos’ direction lacks substance. For the first two acts, a lot of the film doesn’t feel very impactful and considering Ignacio’s storylines, a noticeable lack of tension. Some moments can still grip you, I found Amada’s storyline and particularly Cadena’s performance to be engrossing. Though it isn’t until the third act when the dance occurs and its aftermath, that the strengths of this film shine through. Pablos along with editor Soledad Salfate really impress in displaying the humanity and tragedy of these men, their desire to live as who they were, and the consequences of that desire.

The film doesn’t hold back in its audacities and beauties from costume parties to full-blown orgies, it’s certainly made clear that the rich are living pretty. The locations and scenery have enriching production value especially captured through Carolina Costa’s cinematography. With warm candle lights, sleek tuxedos and gorgeous gowns, there is a definite intimacy to the camera and how it captures the character's presentation of themselves. Everyone’s hiding something about themselves so that this mix of outlandish theatre whether it was the personal ambitions of politics or the extravagance of secret societies contrasts against the layers to the character’s identities. While Pablos and Costa will have the camera sweep around gorgeously designed sets filled with detail and colour (terrific production design from Daniela Schneider and the art direction team) the camera will also hold on to the character’s most vulnerable moments. Whether it in throes of passion or anguish, Dance of the Forty One’s most memorable scenes is when the camera holds on the close up as all the performative fronts come down, particularly the haunting final shot and cut to credits.

It’s disappointing that the skill that Pablos displays in the third act isn’t a consistent tone throughout but it is nice that Dance of the Forty One hits its most important moments where it really counts. While more time devoted to other members of the society would have been appreciated, the film doesn’t shy away from their reality and puts the humanity of Ignacio, Evaristo and the rest front and centre.



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