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To Die In San Hilario
cast: Lluís Homar, Ana Fernádez, Ferrán Rañé, and Uli Ses Dumont

director: Laura Mañá

95 minutes (12) 2004 widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Warner Vision / Dogwoof DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Although it is seemingly set in Spain in the 1930s, there is no mention in To Die In San Hilario (aka: Morir en San Hilario) of the civil war or its repercussions. And then there are the initial gangster elements that seem to have parachuted in from another continent entirely and have not, it must be said, landed entirely successfully. But this is neither a gangster film nor a costume drama. After a while it becomes apparent that this is a magical realist fable and normal rules don't apply.

The village of San Hilario is dedicated to providing fine, tasteful funerals. Dying men used to come from all over to die there and receive the benefits of its whole-heated dedication towards the funerary arts. Lately, though, times have been hard and few men appreciate their skills any longer. The fact that they are on no maps and have a total indifference to newspapers probably doesn't help in the advertising front, and when the artist Germán Cortes writes to them to tell them that he wishes to come to San Hilario to die, they are ecstatic.

Unfortunately Cortes dies on the train going there. Also on the train is an inept gangster, Piernas (superbly played by Lluís Homar), who is on the run after a botched shootout. Piernas jumps off the train at the place where the villagers are waiting (San Hilario having no station), and the villagers naturally assume that he is their man. Piernas does nothing to disillusion them, but is gradually amazed as he works out that the village is preparing for his funeral. Most viewers will be pretty sure that the villagers will indeed bury this man, such is narrative drive, but it would be unfair to comment further in this direction.

The villagers appear before him as a collection of gentle eccentrics. The failed artist with his unrequited love; the priest who is suffering a crisis of faith; the conniving mayor; the seamstress who falls in love with all who go there to die. Piernas, being a failure as a gangster, offers them no harm but they start to effect a change on him. His attempt not to blow his cover leads to a lovely running gag when he is expected to paint a mural for the church. "What, he asks, "is a mural?" And he falls for Esther the seamstress (Ana Fern´┐Żdez). It's very much a character-driven film, reminiscent of a less manic piece by Emir Kusturica.

Although some parts of Laura Mañá's third feature come across as clumsy, there are many beautiful moments here. For example, when Esther discovers that the priest has been indulging in some iconoclasm, she rescues the statue of St Anthony and carries it from the church and it looks, for all the world, as if she is leading a child by the hand. There are enough little gems like this to ensure that this film is worth watching. Is it a masterpiece? No. But Mañá will go on to create one some day.

DVD extras: around ten minutes each of interviews (with the director and cast) and behind-the-scenes footage.

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