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Mourn This Way

To Die Like a Man (2009)

Strand Releasing

“To Die Like a Man” opens with a Weerasethakulian prologue, during which two barrack buddies wander away from their regiment for a little butt sex in the woods. The remainder of the film, though, is purely Almodóvarian. And we’re not talking about the irreverent 1980s Almodóvar here — think the melodramatic, utterly joyless Almodóvar of the last two decades. It’s a story about an aging tranny (Fernando Santos) with a thieving junkie boy toy (Alexander David) and a fugitive biological son (Chandra Malatitch). When her implants cause her breasts to ooze blood, she decides to sashay into the countryside à la “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” There are also occasional nods at Tsai Ming-liang and Todd Haynes, but we’re still mostly left in Almodóvar territory.

It’s unclear what João Pedro Rodrigues’s 2009 Cannes/New York Film Festival entry stands for. Its characters are caricatures who almost defy empathy, although it’s possible that Mr. Rodrigues isn’t the one to blame in that some people do choose to live such one-dimensional lives. Still, one must wonder whether the filmmaker has succeeded in what he set out to accomplish when the film might unintentionally be calling into question whether the very existences of transgendered people are by nature superficial, vacuous and unfulfilled.

“To Die Like a Man” ultimately ends on a somber and evocative note, although Mr. Rodrigues hasn’t fully realized the dramatic potential of someone finally reconciling with his birth gender — and, by extension, himself. And Mr. Rodrigues really has no excuse at this point, when his protagonist figuratively and literally stops being a drag and reveals himself as more than just someone playing dress-up 24/7.


Opens on April 8 in Manhattan.

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues; written by Mr. Rodrigues and Rui Catalão; director of photography, Rui Poças aip; edited by Mr. Mourão and Mr. Rodrigues; production design by João Rui Guerra da Mata; costumes by Patrícia Dória; produced by Maria João Sigalho; released by Strand Releasing. In Portuguese, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hour 13 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Fernando Santos (Tonia), Alexander David (Rosário), Gonçalo Ferreira de Almeida (Maria Bakker), Chandra Malatitch (Zé Maria), Jenny Larrue (Jenny) and Cindy Scrash (Irene).


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