2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival “No Dress Code Required” (by guest blogger, Wendy Moscow)

no dress code

June 20, 2017.  I can’t imagine how anyone, even someone opposed to marriage equality, could fail to be moved by the love story of Victor and Fernando, a gay couple who only want the same protections and societal affirmation that are afforded mixed-sex couples in their city of Mexicali, Mexico. The documentary “No Dress Code Required” follows their two year struggle in nerve-wracking, suspenseful detail, as the City Registry applies every possible tactic to thwart their marriage – from a fabricated bomb threat, to invented anomalies in their witnesses’ signatures, to health testing required of no one else, to shutting down City Hall. The Mexicali officials are abetted by religiously inspired protesters who carry signs invoking Jesus and decrying some imagined threat to family values. But with every roadblock, Fernando and Victor become more doggedly determined, their ten year relationship growing stronger, their commitment deeper.

The film, directed by Cristina Herrera Borquez, and which I saw as part of the remarkable Human Rights Watch Film Festival, is most affecting when exploring the everyday lives of these unassuming, unlikely heroes. As Victor is cooking a meal for the two of them, he chides Fernando for his love of fried food. Later, during an interview, they playfully recall a night in a bar in Tijuana, moments before they met for the first time, when Victor sent a beer over to Fernando and Fernando refused to accept it on principle. When they speak about how their pursuit of justice was for themselves initially, but became part of a larger cause, the camera captures the tender gesture of a hand placed on a back, a wistful glance, a look of defiance. At a lavishly planned reception for which there was no wedding (because of yet another bureaucratic contrivance), we feel the couple’s pain and frustration as they hold on to each other on the dance floor, swaying to what might as well be a dirge. There is a parallel scene at the end of the film, and the joy is as palpable in the latter as the sorrow was in the former.

A favorite moment comes when gay Mexican actor Felipe Najera (who got married to his partner in the more liberal Mexico City) takes up their cause. He produces a television ad in which he is flanked by Victor and Fernando, as the three of them plead their case for equality. It is, apparently, effective, as we see an upswing in support for the couple in their own city – though a general evolution in the level of cultural acceptance is at play here, as well. Throughout, Fernando and Victor have had the fierce loyalty, encouragement and support of family and friends (as well as two dedicated lawyers who were passionate about this case and its implications).

We come away from this extraordinary film with a sense of how ordinary citizens can create revolutionary change, and how the unassailable power of love can, indeed, move mountains.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 20, 2017, in 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Documentary, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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