Dance of the Forty One ★★★★★

A spectacular and sumptuous queer period piece, the film combines old-Hollywood grandeur with a more modern sensibility — blunter, more erotic, and with a blurrier sense of gender presentation.  

Director David Pesos creates lavish set pieces. The costumes and set decoration are gorgeous, boldly colored, and richly detailed, and they’re the perfect setting for a story of grand, sometimes repressed passions. 

His chief accomplishment may be his imagining of the secret lair of the 41, a decadent haven for privileged queers with their diamond cravats, beaded gowns, and mustache wax. Their stage productions play like a breathless, gender-fucked version of Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy. The final ball sequence made me laugh out loud with pure joy at its beauty. 

Alfonso Herrera is brilliant as Ignacio; he captures both sides of him: the icy, status-seeking, gaslighting prick, and the swooning, closeted, tragic sensualist. Mabel Cadena plays his wife as a spiritual sister to Tennessee Williams’ Maggie the Cat; it’s a tremendous and complicated performance of a woman who enjoyed great privilege cut with subtle racism. As the paramour, Emiliano Zurita has the playful, sexy star power to convince you that Ignacio would risk everything for love. 

The film stays with those characters’ privileged point of view, but ultimately, it shows that even wealth has its limits in a repressive, religious society. The final line took the wind out of me.

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