Find yourself, step by step

Danzón has stood the test of time as a classic of Mexican cinema and remains an alluring tale about respect between the sexes


María Novaro, Mexico
1991, Fondo de Fomento a la Calidad Cinematográfica/ Estado de Veracruz/
IMCINE et al.
102 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles

LATAMROB rating: ****

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

FOR THOSE NOT familiar with Caribbean Latin American music, danzón is one of those traditions that have not died among the Mexican masses. A rhythm considered the official dance of Cuba, was born from the contradanse, taken to Cuba by French colonists escaping the Haitian revolt at the end of the 1700s.

Danzón’s style is elegant, allows body contact without the obvious eroticism of other Latin American dances, and sticks to strict rules of both music and movement. The arrival of rock n’roll and disco at some point threatened its fate, as it was associated with the elderly and considered insufficiently cool – relegating it to the proletariat. Nonetheless, as times changed, intellectuals and aficionados revived danzón and remarketed it for the upper classes of the 1990s.

In this delicately crafted drama, María Novaro, one of the most successful female film directors emerging out of Mexican cinema, captures with affection the social value of this dancing genre as well as dealing with the apparent extinction of a style due to globalisation.

The movie portrays the great meaning of this pastime for a working-class woman for whom the only escape in life is this hobby and the social rites it implies: wearing the right shoes, the right clothes, choosing the right partner…

Julia, played convincingly by María Rojo, is a single mother who works as a telephone operator and lives only for her daughter and Wednesdays at the dance hall. Julia has danced loyally for years with the same man, but when her regular partner disappears, determines to find him as her sessions could not be the same without him.

As Veracruz is the cradle of Mexican danzón, Julia believes that her partner has gone there, and so abandons everything to find him. The search will change her outlook forever.

The movie explores some of the dilemmas faced by women in general, such as the responsibilities of motherhood and the struggle to find personal space; friendship between women; the need for a man; and acting outside conventions.

Danzón was warmly received by the Director’s Section of the Cannes Film Festival of 1991 and screened at other festivals. In Mexico it was a box-office success, despite its art-house undertones. The film’s romantic music and pace transport the viewer to warmer climates, and almost into the waves of the Gulf itself.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer