João Pedro Rodrigues’s perspective on cinema and life, in a nutshell: All the world’s a stage, and everyone in it is a drama queen. As a formalist and provocateur, he falls somewhere between John Waters and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, regarding gutterbrow behavior with a jaundiced, irony-free philosophical rigor. Pity, though, that the Portuguese director should make his premiere at the New York Film Festival big table with what amounts to a sluggish interpretation of Fassbinder’s masterpiece In a Year of 13 Moons. Beginning in the woods, with soldiers marching ostensibly toward war but in reality into an act of longed-for sodomy, To Die Like a Man is content to crudely literalize rather than legitimately assess the psychological tumult of its characters, most inanely when Zé Maria (Chandra Malatitch) breaks into his transvestite father’s house and drops a chicken bone, a high heel pump, and a photograph into an aquarium. More objects are buried in the flower garden, and as they’re unearthed by the preop Tonia (Fernando Santos) and her junkie boyfriend Rosário (Alexander David), one feels as if the film wasn’t made for an audience of filmgoers but rather a classroom of Freud scholars. We understand Tonia to be over-the-hill as a performer, caught in a state of male-female in-betweenness, but we never get a substantial sense of the extent and seriousness of her conflict, let alone her feelings for her son, lover, and friends, or their feelings for her. Back in the woods where her wayward, presumably insecure son offed the soldier he had just hammered, Tonia and Rosário encounter a comically delusional cross-dresser whose house acts as a kind of safety zone for the queerest of the queer. But when the screen turns red as the group goes searching for lightning bugs and Baby Dee’s “Cavalry” fills the soundtrack while Rodrigues’s camera takes a 360-degree survey of the landscape, the coarsely virtuostic scene feels digressive as opposed to being part of a whole, unexpressive of its character’s fantasies, resentments, and frustrated sense of identity. It’s not just that To Die Like a Man lacks In a Year of 13 Moons or Querelle‘s fluidity of style, it never coheres as a narrative—a collage of undigested ideas about what it means to be a man who wants to be a woman.
- Strand Releasing
- 138 min
- João Pedro Rodrigues
- João Pedro Rodrigues
- Fernando Santos, Alexander David, Gonçalo Ferreira de Almeida, Chandra Malatitch, Jenny Larrue, Cindy Scrash, Fernando Gomes, Miguel Loureiro, André Murraças
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