While in the West we know there are homophobes, due to the fact that most of us surround ourselves with likeminded people it’s easy to become complacent about the problems that are out there. That’s particularly true in countries like the US and UK that have gay marriage and you can feel fairly confident that even if they don’t like it, those in charge of civil marriage will respect the law and issue you a certificate certificate (some particularly backwards US counties excepted). Well then, be prepared for a documentary that will fill you with righteous indignation and anger.
At the outset of the doc, gay marriage has come to Mexico following a court ruling, although many Mexican states and cities still have ordinances barring it. Victor and Fernando, who’ve been together for 15 years, think that means that if they want to get married it’s likely they’ll have to travel to Mexico City, rather than getting hitched at home in Mexicali, Baja California.
However, with the help of a famous actor who recently married his partner, they discover they should be able to get an order from the court affirming that the local government must abide by the Supreme Court’s decision. If they do so, they Mexicali authorities will have to marry them. Liking the idea of being the first gay couple to marry in the city, they hire a lawyer and head off to court.
What initially looks like it will be a nice little documentary about gay people facing a few problems but ultimately being able to get married, soon becomes a lot more complex and anger-inducing. While the courts say that the Mexicali City Hall must allow Victor and Fernando to marry, things aren’t going to be that simple. The civil authorities begin throwing a never-ending series of bureaucratic impediments in their way that straight couples normally don’t have to deal with. That includes making them prove they’re free of STDs and claiming there are ‘inconsistencies’ with the signatures of the witnesses (even though the witnesses are there to affirm they did indeed sign the documents).
What starts as the small people of a city government being priggish and obstructive becomes increasingly cruel and unpleasant. While refusing to say outright it’s what they’re doing, the authorities do whatever they can do to stick their middle finger up to the courts and the laws of Mexico, all in the full glare of the local media. It becomes increasingly dehumanising and cruel, whether it’s delaying the wedding to investigate whether Victor and Fernando have dementia (they must do apparently as they are two men wanting to get married), or accusing the couple of failing to do things they have filmed evidence of them completing.
The situation gets increasingly farcical, and Victor and Fernando risk having their spirits broken by the humiliation and broken hopes of a stream of wedding dates that are made and broken by the city, in its increasingly desperate attempt to prevent the couple legally sealing their union.
Documentaries can make you happy, sad, fascinated, bored or inspired, but it’s not often one can genuinely make you angry. The sheer level of contempt shown by the Mexicali City Government in No Dresscode Required is simply stunning. Making it all the more infuriating is the sheer lack of compassion and basic humanity shown, where, under the guise of bureaucracy and ensuring everything is in order, they take two people whose only ‘crime’ is to love one, and utterly dehumanise them. Victor and Fernando’s lives are picked apart and scrutinised, they face condemnation and hatred from their more homophobic fellow citizens, and all because they want to do something the law say they have the right to.
It’s not often you get to see a local government so blatantly saying ‘F**k you’ to both its citizens and the law of the land, while casually lying and saying they’re the ones making sure the law is followed. It would actually be better if they just came out and said they were being obstructive because they’re homophobic, but the bureaucratic response is so casually cruel it makes it far worse.
Through all this, Victor and Fernando remain sweet and committed, a steadfast pool of togetherness butting up against authorities that barely treats them like human beings, let alone two people with the legal right to marry. Part of the power of the film is to watch as the local government chip away at the couple, seemingly hoping they will give up and go away, while putting on a show of how difficult they’re making things in order to deter others and play to their homophobic voters. However, they have underestimated this couple and the changing shape of Mexico. Their actions begin to change Victor and Fernando from people who had a nice idea about being the first gay couple to marry in their city, to fully-fledged and committed activists, fighting not just for their own rights, but for the rights of all Mexicans to have a government that actually follows the law.
That journey of people pushed to breaking point becoming the ones spearheading the change is something you often hear about, but it’s not often something you get to see evolving as it happens. No Dresscode Required manages to capture it, showing Victor and Fernando’s journey with passion and commitment, as they realise this is about more than just them, not matter the difficulties and pressures they are put under. It sensibly allows the story to unfold rather than forcing things, which adds to the power and anger it induces.
It’s a film that makes you realise quite how much work there is to do to change hearts and minds, even in countries that seem to be well on their journey to equality by introducing same sex marriage. No Dresscode Required is a call-to-action and also a warning for people not to overlook problems closer to home. The film show that no matter what legal protections you think you have, vindictiveness and the power of government both national and local can strip that away if you’re not careful. Thankfully, the documentary also shows that hope is always there, and that the fight is always worth it.
Overall Verdict: An engrossing, anger-inducing documentary about a charming couple facing the dehumanising cruelness of a local government determined to ignore their love and their legal rights.
Human Rights Film Festival New York Screenings:
June 13, 2017- 6:45PM at IFC CENTER (323 6TH AVENUE)
June 16, 2017- 9:00PM at WALTER READE THEATER (165 WEST 65TH STREET)
The film will be released in the US in Fall (Date Pending) by Outsider Pictures
Reviewer: Tim Isaac