'Danzon' is a gentle triumph for the humane spirit

May 18, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

The Charles seems to have backed into a Mexican film festival, now splitting time on its screen between Robert Rodriguez's energetic "El Mariachi" and Maria Novaro's more sedate "Danzon." If nothing else, the movies show how differently the male and female minds work.

Where Rodriguez's tale is adolescent, visceral and crazed, Novaro's is a more mature and feminist work, acutely observed and quite humane. It doesn't have a single machine pistol.

Rather, it tells the story of Julia, a divorced Mexico City telephone operator whose life has come to revolve around the danzon contests at a local hall every weekend where she and her partner have become quite the winning combination.

Danzon appears to be a kind of formal Latin ballroom dancing, less erotic than elegant, and about as far from that old devil tango as a dance could get. (It reminded me of "Box-step-forward-together, one-two-three" from lessons long ago.)

PD It stands for the curiously sexless, dance-only relationship she

has with her partner, as they know nothing about each other except how he or she moves.

This is her emotional life and it's pretty pathetic, but it's all she has -- until he leaves mysteriously.

After feeling sorry for herself for a while, a friend urges her to track him down and find out what's going on. The film then becomes almost an epic quest, though through a very different forest than most epics. She goes to Veracruz, where she's gradually welcomed into a strange new world of prostitutes, female impersonators and lovers. As it happens, however, this world isn't debauched and lustful but surprisingly compassionate and supportive. It gives her the nurture that her former life completely lacked.

The movie is truly a parable of healing. It recounts the slow and gentle ways that people who care about people can save them from the worst monsters in the world -- the ones inside.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Danzon"

Starring Maria Rojo and Carmen Salinas

Directed by Maria Novaro

Released by Sony Classics

Rated PG-13

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