Dance Of The 41 ***
Starring: Alfonso Herrera, Emiliano Zurita, Mabel Cadena, Fernando Becerril
Director: David Pablos
In November 1901, Mexican police raided a party in the suburbs of Mexico City to find a group of forty-two unaccompanied male aristocrats, almost half of whom were dressed in dresses, wigs and jewellery. Although accounts vary, the forty-second of those present was Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, the son-in-law of then President Profirio Diaz. In this historical film, we meet this group of men and see their hedonistic lifestyle in glorious technicolour, before the infamous titular dance, when the titular forty-one of them were caught.
Ignacio (Herrera) regularly attends secret social events with a group of gay friends. They all hail from the upper echelons of society, but together they can be open and sexually free, albeit behind closed doors. Ignacio is a politician with eyes on the height of government and when he agrees to marry Amada (Cadena), the daughter of the President (Becerril), she thinks she has married a handsome and charismatic eligible bachelor. But when he meets and falls in love with Evaristo (Zurita), a small-time bureaucrat whom he invites to join his society, Amada goes from suspicion to fury as she realises exactly who she married.
Though the events – and consequences – of the evening are well-documented, the details of the attendees are not, so there is some considerable artistic license afoot with joining these missing dots. The crux of this film revolves around Ignacio and Evaristo, the latter of whom is a fictional character. But despite this, the resentment and ferocity that builds in Amada makes for compelling viewing, because this character arc from blushing bride to vengeful harridan is conducted with aplomb by Mabel Cadena. Alfonso Herrera, meanwhile, imbues the right balance of enigma to a man who is on one hand forced to hide his identity, but on the other staying out all night every night and living a life of wild, self-indulgent excess.
The cinematography and art direction are both utterly luscious, with each frame positively dripping with extravagance. Shot on location in stately and succulent historic properties, the costuming is beautiful and the party set-pieces toe the line between glamour and depraved filth. We see a lot more than we bargained for in one orgy scene, which shows the excesses of their sexualised friendships, but it somewhat undermines any sympathy we have for Ignacio when Amada is dutifully waiting at home for him. But then, maybe that’s the point.
For every glorious shot, however, there are problems in equal measure with pacing. It’s a slow film that spends a long time setting itself up, only for the wind never to catch in its sails. The central party, which we know is where the film is heading, is somewhat anticlimactic with handsome shots overcompensating for a director that seems more interested in beauty than action. And as the credits roll and the dance is over, you can’t help but feel cheated, because was that really it? Apparently so. Disappointingly.
OUT NOW ON NETFLIX.