"In its quest to reconcile the life of imagination and primal desire with the physical realities that close in around us, [João Pedro] Rodrigues's cinema sets his characters off sniffing, licking, and rubbing up against this implacable world in hopes it will respond," writes Andrew Chan in Reverse Shot. "In To Die Like a Man, it does. Despite its fair share of dreary, seedy interiors, this story of a Lisbon drag icon named Tonia (Fernando Santos) is a retreat into the natural world and, briefly, into the cosmos.... With echoes of Jacques Nolot's Before I Forget, the film is also a tough portrait of aging queer, of the trials of living in a body torn between persistent desires and a growing rejection of itself. Where Rodrigues's earlier works are built around urgent expressions of youthful, hormonal lust, To Die Like a Man questions what desire means for someone preparing to leave his body - and, more provocatively, what it means to be transsexual as the body relinquishes its hold on one's identity."
"Rodrigues is at least as ambivalent and fluid about gender (re)construction as Judith Butler," writes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily, "and ultimately he arrives at the intersection point between visceral life-and-death matters and academic contemplations of sexuality. The results are staggering."
"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," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "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."
"Rough-trade boyfriend shenanigans, familial crises, beaucoup transformation symbols and Warholian camp-vamping come and go without making much of a mark, and even Santos's dedicated performance ends up fading into hand-over-forehead theatrics," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis finds a "moment of rapture: the characters in repose and flooded in red sit, as if under a spell, while a throaty voice on the soundtrack warns, 'Don't weep for me.' And then everything shifts again, this time into justly earned tragedy."
Michael Guillén interviews Rodrigues and Alexander David.
Reviews from Cannes.
NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.