There’s a part of João Pedro Rodrigues that likes to get down to brass tacks. In the first scene of his 2000 debut, O Fantasma, a dog scratches and yelps at a locked door. Cut to the action inside the room, and we see a black-suited figure right out of Feuillade, busily penetrating a man whose mouth has been stuffed with cotton. In Rodrigues’s sophomore effort, Two Drifters, we’re served up a series of similar shocks: a passionate farewell kiss between two men is swiftly followed by the bloody death of one of them, then by a funeral where a female stranger fellates the corpse’s ring off his finger. These first two films take the universe as one big erogenous zone, in which anything—an ass, a motorcycle, the wall of a public shower, even a tombstone—is waiting to be humped. No need for foreplay; we’re assaulted with the climax right out of the gate. And in its aftermath we meet another Rodrigues, one who withholds, who occludes and mystifies that sense of clear narrative purpose other filmmakers tend to reveal in bold letters. The films circle ritualistically around their initial blast of sensation. In its quest to reconcile the life of imagination and primal desire with the physical realities that close in around us, Rodrigues’s cinema sets his characters off sniffing, licking, and rubbing up against this implacable world in hopes it will respond.
In To Die Like a Man, it does. Click here to read the rest of Andrew Chan’s review of To Die Like a Man.