To Die Like a Man hits the screens
by Vitor Pinto
15/10/2009 - Autumn brings to Portuguese screens several local titles already seen this year in international showcases. While we still await Midas Filmes' November release of Pedro Costa’s portrait of Jeanne Balibar, Ne change rien [trailer] – first seen in Cannes’ Director Fortnight last May – another Cannes entry, shown in Un Certain Regard, is finally hitting screens today through Lusomundo: João Pedro Rodrigues’s To Die Like a Man [trailer]. The film marks the return of Rodrigues – seen by many as an enfant terrible of Portuguese cinema – after his internationally acclaimed feature debut O Fantasma and his not-so-praised Odete [trailer].
Playing with the codes of musical comedy, melodrama and tragedy, To Die Like a Man follows Tonia, a Lisbon transvestite trapped between the prejudices of his son (the product of a teenage heterosexual relationship) and pressure from his boyfriend to undergo a series of operations to become a woman. Tonia's religious convictions do not allow him to complete this transformation, though, and he ultimately decides to accept his fate: "To die like a man".
Rodrigues, who co-wrote the script with Rui Catalão, describes his work as a "war film". That is, a portrait of a person at war with himself and society’s expectations. Inspired by the life of a famous transvestite, who also inspired a book by António Lobo Antunes, the film nevertheless is not a biopic but rather an incursion into musical comedy and melodrama – a genre that seems as dear to Rodrigues as it was to other filmmakers working on similar themes, such as Fassbinder and Almodóvar.