Review: To Die Like a Man DVD

To Die Like A Man DVD boxSTUDIO: Strand | DIRECTOR: João Pedro Rodrigues | CAST: Fernando Santos, Alexander David , Ivo Barroso, Miguel Loureiro, Chanda Malatitch
8/23/2011 | PRICE: DVD $24.99
NR | 134 min. | Foreign-language melodrama | 1.33:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | Portuguese with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

To Die Like a Man movie scene

Fernando Santos is Tonia in To Die Like a Man.

Portuguese film To Die Like a Man, which is set in Lisbon’s transgender subculture, is a melodrama with surreal overtones.

The movie follows Tonia (Fernando Santos), an iconic drag cabaret performer, who has had breast implants but held off final surgery to become a woman despite the wishes of her younger drug-addicted lover Rosario (Alexander David). Tonia is motivated by devout Catholicism and fear that the surgery will compromise her drag status. Then, a son Tonia fathered years earlier re-enters her life after going AWOL from the army having killed another soldier.

To escape the petty rivalries at work and the downward spiral of their lives, Tonia and Rosario travel to the countryside (a cross-dressing Wild Strawberries?), where they encounter the enigmatic Maria (Chanda Malatitch) and Paula (Miguel Loureiro) and spend a pixilated night in the woods that leaves them transformed.

Full disclosure: Surgically altering one’s gender status makes me queasy (and be warned, the movie has a clinically graphic description of a “chopadictomy”), so it’s a measure of writer/director Rodrigues’ artistry that I find these characters and their story compelling and moving. He never resorts to detached irony but forces us to respect their common humanity, no matter how ridiculous they behave.

The actors’ performances are fierce and courageous, especially Santas and David. And the visuals are gorgeous: mesmerizing long-held shots often accompanied by soft music and stark religious imagery, especially a scene where a man washes his AIDs-ravaged lover’s body.

To Die Like a Man is a difficult film to watch, but in a good way — and it’s ultimately quite haunting.

The DVD is bare of special features.


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About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.