Things We Dare Not Do


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Things We Dare Not Do
"This is a beautiful story that takes you beneath the skin of a culture and a place very different from what us Brits are used to." | Photo: Courtesy of DOC NYC

It is rare – rare in the extreme – that a documentary is capable of delivering a cliffhanger and dramatic tension of the sort you might find in a thriller or other film in the drama genre. But that, out of the blue, is precisely what Things We Dare Not Do (Cosas que no Hacemos) does.

OK. It makes sense and fits the logic of the narrative arc on display. Even so, after three-quarters of a film’s worth of documenting the difficulties of 16-year-old and queer/trans Ñoño, and their struggle to live a life that is authentic and true to themselves, in the heart of a homophobic, transphobic rural Mexican community, it is still a shock when Ñoño finally comes out. At the family evening meal. Asking permission of the father, the head of the family, in much the same way as, one imagines, young men once petitioned for the right to marry a young daughter.

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“Sit down”, Ñoño announces: “I have something to tell you”. Or ask. “You know I’m gay”, they begin, shyly.”I wanted to ask for your permission to dress as a woman”.

It’s a pivotal moment, drawn out in ways that an old master at this game, such as Hitchcock or Stephen King, would recognise and applaud. And even if this is not a horror movie, from what has gone before, the serious consequences of this choice, this announcement have already been made very clear.

For now, though, there’s the business with the rabbit. Yes, Ñoño’s mother must make sure the rabbit is safe and not about to be eaten by the dogs before Ñoño speaks. Get on with it! There’s a slow steady build of tension as Ñoño gets ready to ask. Then, the question. That question. And then…nothing. A long, long pause, camera mostly on the face of Ñoño’s father, cutting away just occasionally to Ñoño’s face and the single tear creeping down it as we wait and wait and wait.

For a documentary, Things We Dare Not Do is exceedingly engaging, in a way that many documentaries aren’t. We start with scene setting, a focus on the life of children in this community. It is a different, tough, in many ways idyllic lifestyle, as seemingly dozens of children run wild and free, untrammelled by the sort of constraints we are used to seeing them subjected to in the UK.

Climbing a gantry to put up bunting for a village celebration? Check. We don’t need professionals to do that, let’s just ask a ten-year-old. Riding a fairly hefty motorbike? Yep, where’d that ten-year-old go? And we see Ñoño very much at home within this riot of pre-adulthood - helping out, supporting, combing hair. As if, afraid of what adults might do, there is safety in taking refuge with these children.

But the adult world is coming. In this case, in the form of two young men with more gun than sense, who turn up at a village dance and shoot dead one of the participants. It is never quite clear quite what their motivation was. But there is heavy hint that it involved homophobia. A disapproval of difference.

The police are not that interested.

So we see the children, the next morning, inspecting the bloodstain where the murder took place, and daring one another to step in it. There were 15 shots. No, 11. Or was it six? The children discuss, in much the same way they would count the number of toasted marshmallows on a stick.

They are already in the adult world. But not yet of it.

This is a beautiful story that takes you beneath the skin of a culture and a place very different from what us Brits are used to. It finds its way with director Bruno Santamaría Razo applying the lightest of light touches throughout. Indeed, there were more than a few moments where I was left wondering, how did he manage that? How did he dig so deep into the community without explaining what he is looking at? Because, to be fair, setting off by explaining that “this is a documentary about the coming out of a young Mexican teenager” doesn’t quite cut it.

Because spoilers.

On which note: what does Ñoño’s father say? Will he grant permission or are we watching a moment of ostracism and ejection from the family home? Sorry: but you’ll have to watch it yourself to find out.

Reviewed on: 22 Nov 2020
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Things We Dare Not Do packshot
A profile of a Mexican trans teenager on the cusp of adulthood.

Director: Bruno Santamaría Razo

Writer: Bruno Santamaría Razo

Year: 2020

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: Mexico


DOC NYC 2020

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