“To Die Like a Man” (Morrer Como Um Homem)
Erasing the Past
Strand Releasing gives us an Oscar nominated film that is shocking and uplifting. It is the story of a transvestite who tries to erase her past history as a male but dies tragically before she is able to do so and on her tombstone is engraved her male identity. The film begins with brutality—we see two young soldiers having sex and afterwards one kills the other and right away we know what the feelings are about male/male sex.
“To Die As a Man” is a film about a transsexual (or better pit, a would be transsexual) who lives with a young druggie. As Tonia, Fernando Santos pulls out all of the stops. She is a drag queen who is aging and is asked to leave the show at the place where she works. Her competition is Jenny, a young Black drag queen. This is not a new idea—we have seen it many times before but maybe not with drag performers.
Director Joao Pedro Rodrigues is going to be a force in film, and she shows here that he is not afraid on anything and will pit on the screen what he wants. At 44 years old he is one of the new talents on the queer cinema scene. This film is about transcending gender and stars middle-aged Santos who just happens to be the leading drag performer in Portugal and a devout Catholic. As he speaks of sex change surgery, he does so graphically and we learn that the silicone injections that he has received are leaking. As if that is not enough, he has to deal with his drug addicted boyfriend and son who loves guns as well as the new rival. Tonia owns the film and is on screen for most of it and although we never see Tonia perform, we are well aware of what he can do. We see that being a drag queen is not enough for Tonia and he is also a drama queen.
While Tonia is the star, the film also revolves around Rosario (Alexander David), a gay man much younger than Tonia that she has fallen in love with. He is a drug addict, a thief and an abusive partner and although we see this we are also privy to the love they feel for each other. Rosario is damaged, a product of a damaged environment.
I would probably classify the film as a character study of a relationship that goes against all what society thinks is “normal” and the director tends to be a bit too abstract for everyone. The camera does not always focus and I suspect that this is because we are to buy into the illusion, that although the characters are real, the world they live in is based upon inaccuracies. This is a total experience that no amount of talk will do it justice and the movie entertains as well as gives us reason to worry.