'No Dress Code Required' follows the quest of two men to marry in Mexicali
Cristina Herrera Borquez’s documentary No Dress Code Required is a love story, although it does not begin with love at first sight. The couple, Victor and Fernando, were in a bar. Victor sent Fernando a beer, but he refused it. Victor’s hair was a mess. Fernando is a hairdresser. Victor was skinny and he had tattoos, and Fernando thought he might be a drug addict. (He wasn’t.) Victor sent another beer. They talked. Fernando realized they liked many of the same things. They dated, they had their first romantic weekend, and after a while they moved in together. The honeymoon never ended for Victor Manuel Aguirre Espinoza and Victor Fernando Urias Amparo—until they decided to get married.
No Dress Code Required will have its New York premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 13. Borquez, who lives and works in Los Angeles, makes her feature debut with this documentary. Her roots are in Mexicali, Mexico, a state capital just south of the U.S. border; it is where her film is set and the city Fernando and Victor call home. “Fernando is my hairstylist,” she says, when asked how she met her subjects. “I have known and loved him and Victor for a long time.” The filmmaker, who has an MFA in Media Arts from Hunter College, spoke with FJI by telephone.
Borquez did not set out to profile the charismatic lovers. “I started out wanting to document the legal process required for gay marriage in different states in Mexico,” she explains, “starting with the state of Baja, California. I thought if I was going to do this film myself, it would have to be a small project, maybe an educational video that we could get into schools or into LGBT organizations.” The “we” refers to Borquez’s production company, La Cleta Films, in which she and Sabrina Almandoz Gerbolini are partners.
No Dress Code Required opens with Fernando and Victor speaking about their idea of a perfect wedding. Fernando says that he imagines it being like his sister’s communion. She wore a large hoop skirt that was afterward consigned to the bottom of her closet. Later, when his boyhood friends suggested to Fernando that they play “wedding,” he recalls insisting on being the bride—he wanted to wear that hoop skirt. The two men laugh. Fernando muses that he will not wear a hoop skirt to their wedding. Borquez then moves to a montage of Fernando and Victor at a dance class and working together at their hair salon, Los Truccos. In voiceover, Victor muses over the countless brides they have had as customers. Getting married, he says, is a right they take for granted.
When the lovers first decide that they will marry, Fernando discovers a post on Facebook about Mexican actor Felipe Najera; he had just married his male partner in Mexico City. Fernando writes to him for advice and Najera gives him the name of a lawyer. “At first, Fernando told me they were going to do a ‘spiritual ceremony,’” the filmmaker recalls. “That’s all they could do then.” The couple hire a lawyer who discovers that it is not illegal for two men to get married in the Baja, and Victor and Fernando head for city hall. What follows is a two-year battle with city and state officials during which Fernando insists that they will prevail, and Victor wavers between hope and despair. Both men remain poised throughout their travails, even when confronted with homophobic protestors.
Near the end of that struggle, Fernando and Victor are at City Hall with their witnesses and family members—and their local counsel, José Luis Marquez Saavedra. A new glitch arises, and before Saavedra can resolve it, City Hall is evacuated. “That day, I knew I had a film,” Borquez says. “The first time they went to file at City Hall, and the officials did not want to come down from their offices, the story was starting to come together. Then, this particular day, there was the bomb threat, and we had a really clear path of how to tell the story.” No bomb was ever found.
Borquez was not surprised by the homophobia among city officials, but she did not anticipate their actions. “I never thought that events would unfold the way they did,” she says, “so I didn’t have a script, just a storyline that I would alter as things happened because we needed a structure for fundraising purposes.” The filmmaker received a Foprocine grant, awarded to feature-length Mexican films in need of production or postproduction money. She used the funding wisely—No Dress Code Required is expertly edited, scored and mixed. “I always knew that I needed an editor who was not familiar with the material,” Borquez says. “I had someone else work on it for a month because that’s what we could afford. When we got the grant, I hired Javier Campos Lopez.”
Borquez asked Lopez, a well-known editor in Latin American film circles (also credited as Javier Campos), to respect that first cut. “It was the way we wanted to tell the story,” she notes, “but Javier gave it the rhythm it has today. He was able to combine the past with the present so well, intertwining the love story and the legal case, so the film the way it stands now is his work.” As for the delightful score, mostly orchestrated as solo piano, it is by Gustavo Pomeranec. “I always knew that the film wasn’t going to have music from start from finish, that it would only be used sparingly to enhance certain scenes,” Borquez says. “Gustavo got it right away. We met only once, and then worked via Skype because he was in Argentina and I was here in L.A.”
While she was writing funding proposals, Borquez confides, she was compelled to reflect on her reasons for making this documentary. “I struggled with why I was so drawn to the story of Victor and Fernando other than the fact that I love these two men with all my heart,” she says. “It isn’t about the legal rights of this couple or the LGBT community. It is about ‘otherness’ of people who are not the same as everybody else and because of this difference are forced to live as though they were displaced people.”
When asked about the irony of Mexicali’s proximity to the U.S. and its reactionary views toward the LGBT community, Borquez laughs. “Not even at the border are we Americanized,” she says. “We think we are, but we are very much Latin.” This is also apparent, Borquez explains, in Mexico’s culture of machismo: “It’s hard everywhere for women, but I think it’s worse in Latin America.” The filmmaker recalls being radicalized during her time in New York City. “Hunter [College] had a strong documentary program, which is the reason I chose it,” she says. “It was there that I realized I could do things myself, that I didn’t need a crew—and that I could do this as a woman!”
No Dress Code Required ends as all love stories should, yet the wounds suffered by these gentle men linger nevertheless—in one heart-wrenching scene halfway through the documentary, Victor says he cannot go on because the legal battle is forcing him to relive all the shame and anger he felt as a boy. He and Fernando still reside in Mexicali, where gay men and women practice restraint in their displays of affection. “They are from a generation that didn’t get to do that,” Borquez says. “Even today, even after all they’ve gone through, I don’t see them kiss or hold hands in public.”