Eye For Film >> Movies >> To Die In San Hilario (2005) Film Review
Following her compelling psycho-drama Killing Words in 2003, writer-director Laura Mañà has returned to the whimsical comedy that made her millennial debut Compassionate Sex such a success.
To Die in San Hilario doesn’t quite reach the same striking levels of sentiment but the themes of heart-warming romance, redemption and optimism wrapped in off-kilter humour still abound. And Mañà has retained a keen eye for enervating landscapes and nostalgic scenes.
Legs (Lluis Homar, Bad Education) is a two-bit gangster of the old-school zoot-suit variety, and not a very bright one at that. He’s brawn more than brains. When a swag exchange in the Spanish countryside goes belly up he scarpers with the loot and hitches a train into a middle-of-nowhere village, San Hilario.
The village folk used to make their living by hosting stylish funerals and ceremonies, giving extravagant and honourable send-offs those who came to the renowned San Hilario to die. Business has been less than good and they’re overjoyed when finally one Senor Cortes sends word that he wishes to be buried in their cemetery. When Legs pitches up on cue he is mistaken for Cortes and the comedy of errors begins.
The longer Legs has to lie low in the village the more the simple living and idiosyncratic characters melt his tough, tattooed exterior, all the while preparing his funeral. He’s especially drawn to the alluring mortuary worker Esther (Ana Fernández, Solas). Of course, as he gets to know the villagers his presence changes their lives for the better, too, and not just due to the ‘business’ he brings.
It’s a basic tale and with an assortment of bossy mayors, priests in crisis, bullied boys and unrequited loves, the endings for all involved are thoroughly predictable. Still, everyone plays the parts with gusto to create a simplistic but colourful ensemble of weathered rural charm. Homar and Fernández make good use of their time as simple souls looking for comfort and acceptance.
Mañà exercises great skill in almost all her frames and makes good use of the delightfully rustic streets of San Hilario and the mountainous sierras that surround it. However, she deliberately soaks her movie in a film of sentimentality and nostalgic whimsy that overheats her already eccentrically warm characters, making everything a tad cloying. You yearn for more flourishes of the black humoured, off-beat clowning, but as the inevitability of events tips towards simple life lessons you realise this slice of entertainment is weaker than it promised to be. Despite the magic that Mañà creates, you can’t help but feel there was a missed opportunity or two here.Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2006