Alfonso Herrera and Mabel Cadena give two stand-out performances in Dance of the 41.
This review of the Netflix film Dance of the 41, also known as El baile de los 41, contains no spoilers — the biographical drama film was released on the streaming service on May 12, 2021.
When Amada (Mabel Cadena) lets her new husband know she can’t play the piano, but has he ever known a woman who can clean, load, and fire a rifle, the message couldn’t be more obvious. She has to lay it on thick because her husband seems incredibly shy. She undresses in front of him, but he chooses now to do a favor for her father. That’s the dance they play. A never-ending one of political tug-and-pull, and no one comes out a winner.
Netflix’s Dance of the 41 is based on the true story of Ignacio de la Torre (Alfonso Herrera), a congressman at the end of the 19th century who married the daughter of the president of Mexico, Porfirio Díaz (Fernando Becerril). He uses Amanda as his beard to lead a double life. One, as a rise to prominence as a political figure. The other, living out a secret life as a gay man during a time that could get you jailed or executed.
The film’s title refers to an illegal raid by the President’s armed guard. A private party where 41 gay men were arrested, with 19 of them dressed as women. These men were berated, humiliated, beaten, and then shipped off to prisons to atone for their sins for being homosexuals. The problem was there were 42, and politics is power, so President Diaz took Ignacio off the list. It’s a story in a long line of atrocities the LGTBQ+ community has suffered for centuries.
Director David Pablo’s highly fictionalized reimagining displays a fine eye for composition and captures emotions in almost every scene. Not just lust or love, but fear, anxiety, contempt, and hate. The third act in Dance of the 41 is particularly powerful, showing the house of cards that fell on top of the lie Ignacio was living; his wife being the one to knock it over. It’s a beautifully shot film, with expert production, and costume design that takes you to another time and place.
While the film needed a jolt of action in its first two acts, the performances from Hererra and Cadena are first-rate. Hererra’s take on a man who deserves our sympathy for being forced to lead a clandestine life but who also used Amada for political gain is effective. The film’s final scene is devastatingly effective. Cadena’s arc as a woman scorned captures the attitude and intolerance of a religious country’s morals. By the end of the film, she is effectively keeping him hostage and trapped. She’s a political animal as much as her father is. It’s one of the year’s best performances.
They say the incident of the Dance of the 41 “invented” homosexuality, though all it did was shine a light on the issue. Nevertheless, it’s an absorbing study of the two leads—both being trapped by social norms and living miserable, tragic lives for nothing more than biology.