To Die in San Hilario

To Die in San HilarioTo Die in San Hilario (aka Morir en San Hilario) is a likable, entertaining 2005 film from Castaleo, the same Barcelona production house that made Jaume Balaguero’s Fragile, amongst many other films. It marks something of a change for them… whereas their usual releases can usually be classified as ‘genre’ material, most specifically horror, this is a whimsical comedy-drama that’s rather like – but at the same time completely different to – a Hispanic version of Little Miss Sunshine.

Set in the 1930s (?), ‘Legs’ (Lluís Homar) is a rather hapless gangster, who manages to escape from a bungled police raid with a sack full of cash and hops on a handy train heading for the heart of the Spanish countryside. He gets of in a small town in the middle of nowhere called San Hilario – the place is so obscure it doesn’t even appear on the map – hoping to hide out for a few weeks until the heat has died down. Unfortunately, San Hilario is a rather odd place: a town that developed around a large cemetary, and as such became known as a place where people go to die, sure of having a top notch funeral. And, thanks to a series of coincidences, they mistake ‘Legs’ for their latest customer, a famous artist called German Cortes.

It takes a while for ‘Legs’ to catch onto what’s going on – depite being measured up for his funeral suit and coffin – and he’s simply convinced that the town’s full of mad people. In the meantime, though, this gruff outsider begins to have a positive effect on the inhabitants of San Hilario , and in turn he begins to appreciate the quiet life there, not least because he embarks upon a relationship with local widow Esther (Ana Fernández). However, the date of his ‘death’ rapidly approaches…

A subtle black comedy, with the humour coming from the characters rather than the dialogue or farcical situation, this is actually rather a sweet film, despite the fact that it all hinges around the certainty of death. It has touches of magical realism, and the eccentric villagers and befuddled central character aren’t too different from fish-out-of-water TV series such as Hamish Macbeth or Doc Martin. A lot of it’s effectiveness is due to Lluís Homar, who looks a little like a sturdier Jack Nicholson, and gives a finely judged performance (you may have spotted him in Almodovar’s Bad Education).

Laura Mañá – an actress and director who previously made Killing Words – directs with some style. A lot of this was filmed in Argentina, but it actually looks rather like Almeria, and some of the stylings have something of the Spaghetti western about them (much like another film with similar themes, Patrice Laconte’s L’homme du train).


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