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Thursday, November 23, 2017

TIME TO DIE -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a simple, matter-of-fact story told in a deliberate style that allows the viewer to contemplate what's happening rather than just passively observing flashes of action and drama. 

If, like TIME TO DIE, aka Tiempo de morir (1966, Film Movement Classics), this story happens to be a vintage Mexican western in exquisite black-and-white, then all the better.

There's a lot to contemplate in the story of Juan Sayago (Jorge Martínez de Hoyos, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE PROFESSIONALS), who, after serving 18 years in prison for killing a man, is released and walks all the way through the lonely desert to return to his hometown where the dead man's two sons, now grown, wait patiently for their revenge. 

Juan doesn't want trouble, but only to rebuild his life just as he tries to reassemble the shambles of a home left when his mother died years ago.  But the hatred of proud, hot-tempered young Pedro Trueba (Enrique Rocha) is too strong, and his insistent provocations to violence unavoidable even as the man's younger brother Julian (Alfredo Leal), the less volatile of the two, has a conflicting sense of what he sees as a potentially honorable man.

The story seems almost reverse-inspired by HIGH NOON--this time it's the protagonist coming into town while his killers await him there, and the townspeople, rather than staying out of it, do everything they can to come between the opposing forces to avoid bloodshed. 

This is especially true of Juan's former love Maria (top-billed Marga López), now a rich, respected widow, and Julian's girlfriend Sonia (Blanca Sánchez), who fears the needless death or imprisonment of her future husband--strong women but unable, in their time, to affect the course of men doing men's business with harsh fate as their final arbiter.

There's also HIGH NOON's brand of crisp black-and-white photography and quiet, deliberate pacing as well as a preoccupation with time and timepieces.  In addition to brief snatches of its minimalist score, the film's soundtrack consists mainly of stark practical sound effects often backed by the constant rush of hot desert winds. 

A long moment in which Maria quietly dreads the inevitable future is accentuated by the loud ticking of a clock.  When the vengeful Pedro dons his father's old clothes and paces within his empty study, the dead man's spurs echo hollowly on the wooden floor as Pedro follows in his ghostly footsteps.

In 1962's THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Jorge Martínez de Hoyos played a humble farmer seeking the aid of expert gunmen to help protect his village from marauders.  Here, he himself is such a gunman, but a tired, much older one who now wants only peace and a chance at redemption. 

It's a restrained, subtle performance that reflects Juan's wasted years behind bars and his weary regret for once killing a man while now facing the prospect of engaging his two sons in pointless conflict.

The main tragedy is that in this revenge western there are no bad guys and no clear-cut morality--only a relatively good man who was once forced to kill, and two brash young men honor-bound to avenge what they perceive to be the cowardly murder of their father. 

Director Arturo Ripstein, who began his career as Luis Buñuel's assistant director in 1962 and would become one of Mexico's leading filmmakers, handles his first feature film with a restrained confidence and an artistic eye.  He favors long, unhurried takes with fluid handheld camerawork (a rarity in those days before Steadicam) that tells the story unobtrusively and economically. 

Part of the novelty of this Mexican western comes from the setting, taking place not in the rough border town of Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but in a picturesque village with narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings of adobe and brick.  There's an almost turn-of-the-century modernity and sense of progress which the more civic-minded inhabitants are striving to keep untainted by the kind of violence threatened by Juan's return. 

The physical and emotional release of gunplay is held back from us until the very end, where neither we nor the surviving character(s) derive much satisfaction from it save for a curdled sense of relief.  In TIME TO DIE, the only real victor is Death itself.

Video Introduction by director Alex Cox (Repo Man)
Commentary by director Arturo Ripstein and actor Enrique Rocha
New essay by Carlos A. Gutiérrez, co-founder of Cinema Tropical
Booklet insert

Type:  Blu-ray/DVD
Running Time: 89 mins. + extras
Rating:  N/A
Genre:  Western
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:  Stereo
Language: Spanish with English Subtitles

Buy it at Film Movement Classics



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