By Angelica Chong, Staff Writer
Same-sex marriage has been ruled legal throughout Mexico by the Mexican Supreme Court, but the city council of Mexicali is actively hostile to following through with the law. “No Dresscode Required” chronicles Victor and Fernando’s fight to become the first gay couple to marry in their state of Baja California, Mexico, despite the opposition posed by the government. The documentary follows them as they struggle against a recalcitrant bureaucratic machine and the homophobia of their fellow residents, but intersperses the legal battle with happier stories of the couple’s childhoods and their loving relationship.
The fight for marriage equality is not a new topic, but “No Dresscode Required” takes a deep dive into the mundane minutiae of marriage proceedings after the ostensible “we’ve done it!” euphoria of Supreme Court legislation. While most films close with the triumph over this biggest hurdle, “No Dresscode Required” delves into how difficult it is for legal writ to enforce human homophobia, especially when this particular political directive is mandated from faraway Mexico City, without local impetus to make law on paper a lived reality. The film includes street interviews with passersby on the street who express casual yet unsurprisingly homophobic views, ranging from the religiously motivated to the blackly absurd. Where the true awfulness lies is when we see how these same individual attitudes have severe ramifications on the implementation of the law. As Fernando articulates at one point in the film, “We are fighting for a legal right. Legal rights have nothing to do with religious ideologies.” Except, of course, the law is enforced by people, and with enough plausible deniability, legality is ignored.
Where the documentary does its best work is in demonstrating the sheer banality of the bureaucratic process and the mounting frustration an unyielding local government can provoke. The Mexicali civil registry wears Victor and Fernando down with increasingly outlandish excuses to not marry them, from a ‘bomb threat’ just minutes before their scheduled appointment, to, most ludicrously, claims that the couple suffer from dementia and are not psychologically fit to marry. In a particularly infuriating scene, the government employee simply repeats “The law empowers me to do so” as Victor and Fernando’s lawyer bombards her with questions. Ironic, that she uses the law as her defense even as her office ignores the highest legal commandment from the Supreme Court.
The couple eventually receives their happy ending, after more than two years of legal wrangling, but this latter third of the documentary is less compelling tension and more matter-of-fact eventuality. Documentarian Cristina Herrera Borquez’s technical stumbles are more obvious here, as mistakes like out-of-focus shots and repetitive narration become more noticeable as the story itself peters out. However, the less-than-polished filming is made up for by the access she gains to her subjects; in some ways, it makes the documentation of their lives seem more authentic.
Earlier in “No Dresscode Required,” after the second time their marriage has been impeded by government stalling, Victor and Fernando slow-dance during what was supposed to have been their wedding dinner; it is a melancholic and utterly heartbreaking scene, with the dance floor empty except for the two men clutching each other so tightly that they seem to be holding each other up. In a mirrored scene, after they are finally officially married, they dance again, but this time, their embrace reflects contentment and a fiercely quiet joy. This is the true heart of the film — the humanity in Victor and Fernando is why some technical fumbling and simplistic cinematography becomes secondary to their story.
“No Dresscode Required” opens in New York theaters on Friday, Nov. 3.