In 1901 in Mexico City a party was thrown by a secret men’s club. At the event, half of the assistants were dressed up like women and the other half as normal men. They were all imprisoned by the police under the crime of homosexuality. This party was known by the press as El baile de los 41 or “The dance of the 41”, and resulted in the greatest social scandal of the Mexcian dictatorship.
From 1877 until 1911, Mexico affronted the dictatorship of General Porfirio Díaz Mori. Throughout this period, called “the porfiriato”, the country lived a modernization process: train rails all around the territory, huge industrial companies owned by Americans and Europeans, economic growth and the most beautiful architecture, specifically in Mexico City. On the other hand, this period has a dark side that involves indigenous massacres in the north of Mexico, social repression, an enormous cultural elite and, of course, the extreme poverty of most of the population.
However, this film, directed by David Pablos and written by Monika Revilla, is all about the dictator’s social circle. Ignacio de la Torre (Alfonso Herrera), Díaz’ son-in-law, is the main character of the greatest social scandal of the dictatorship: a transvestite luxurious party attended by politicians, artists, bankers and all kind of important and respectable men; who used to live a normal heterosexual married life in daylight. Ignacio de la Torre was the number 42 caughted by the police, but because of the shame of exposing his own daughter’s husband, the president asked for his release, forcing the press to announce 41 assistants in the list of the embarrassing party.
Amada Díaz (Mabel Cadena), the president’s daughter and De la Torre’s wife, knows exactly what happens when her husband leaves at night, but she can not do anything about it and the film shows us with great beauty how the anguish drives her insane day by day. In order to keep up the appearances, Amada and Ignacio behave as a normal just-married couple in public, but at home they don’t even sleep together because Ignacio just can not stand her whining about the lack of sex and her need to become a mother, a dream she would never accomplish.
In fact, Ignacio is in love with Evaristo Rivas (Emiliano Zurita), a lawyer who works with him. The two maintain a secret relationship afterwork and that is why Ignacio introduces him to The-now- 42 club, a secret society in a hidden downtown building where a bunch of gay men are free to be themselves, living their own sexuality and organizing drag queens shows as enterteinment. The film allows us to be inside the double-life of many men of the era, and shows us how dangerous but exciting having a secret life when the sun goes down could be.
All along the story, we can see De la Torre’s intimate life and political career crumble under the rumors about his lifestyle. People start to talk about the double life, the lack of children and his pretty close relation with Evaristo.
The climax of the story( the greatest scandal of the dictatorship) is the annual dance in which the 42 members of the club meet for a wonderful evening. The photograph, the colors and the exquisite music make this scene one of the best of the film. You can feel the happiness of the concurrence, breathe the freedom and taste the ecstasy of the moment; not to mention the great taste of the costume design, very adequate to the french fashion of the mexican elite by the beginning of the 20th century.
At the end of the movie, the Director demonstrates the barbaric treatment of the State towards the homosexuals, who are imprisoned and exhibited in public in order to be beaten and insulted by the people in the central plaza as a way to produce fear among the public. This piece is a dazzling window through time to the Porfirio Díaz’s days and recreates magnifically the social manners of men and women; at the same time it provides us a reminder of the cruel reality living today in several countries where homosexuality is still forbidden and punished.