Grade: B+/A-
1965, 89 min., Black and White
Film Movement
Not rated (would be PG for some violence)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Spanish LPCM 2.0
Bonus features: B-
Trailer (in Spanish)
Amazon link

The cover of Time to Die (Tiempo de morir) makes it look like a telenovela—the kind satirized in the popular TV series Jane the Virgin. But this film by legendary Mexican director Arturo Ripstein has more in common with classic, tense psychological Westerns like High Noon and the original 3:10 to Yuma. It’s an intelligently written drama that holds your attention from start to finish—no surprise, really, if you consider that the screenplay is by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with additional dialogue courtesy of another Nobel laureate, Carlos Fuentes.

If Time to Die wasn’t a Spanish language film with English subtitles, it would probably appear on lists of Best Westerns (top movies, that is—not the hotel chain).

Like High Noon and 3:10 to Yuma, this Western moves at a slower pace than is typical of the genre, with tension, not nonstop shoot-‘em-up action, the single most reason for the film’s success. That pacing also makes it an ideal film for families with junior high or high school age children who are studying Spanish in school.

There’s but one jarring moment in the film, and it comes early. The film opens with a hand-held camera shot that tracks Juan Sayago (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos—familiar to American audiences as the village spokesman in the original Magnificent Seven) from behind as he is released from prison. It’s a striking shot that will remind Western fans of the famous ending of The Searchers, but as we follow Sayago we watch him cross a small river that meanders under an arch bridge reinforced with corrugated metal. Now it may well be that corrugation was a building technique in the late 1800s, but it has a jarringly contemporary feel that makes you wonder about the film’s time period. Is it the 1890s? Turn of the century?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because Time to Die has a timeless feel to it—a fable about fathers and sons and revenge. Though the bartender and everyone he meets seems to like him, they all warn Sayago that he shouldn’t have come back to his hometown. The two sons of the man he killed have sworn to kill him. It’s only a matter of time, and with that imaginary (but very palpable) clock ticking away, audiences experience a tension that just doesn’t let up.

During the film we learn the story of how a man as good, as moral, as well-liked as Sayago could have killed a man, and we hear other sides of that story as well—including a version from his old flame, Mariana (Marga Lopez). It’s a story that plays out on two generational levels, and therein lies the film’s sense of timelessness. Will history repeat itself? Can children escape their father’s considerable shadows? And what part can love play in this drama—enough of an influence to keep it from becoming a tragedy? Will Sayago run, or will he face the men who have come to hate him without even knowing him? Ultimately, the big question is this: Does “fate” exist, and, if so, can a man escape his fate?

Time to Die isn’t rated, but there’s very minimal violence and nothing else to rate it worse than a PG film. At a time when the Spaghetti Western was featuring ultra violent and sensational stories, Ripstein took the high road, and now Film Movement brings it to Blu-ray with a new 2K restored transfer that enhances the film’s elegance.

Ripstein was only 21 when he directed Time to Die, yet he has refused to list his debut feature film among his credits. That’s a mistake, as anyone who watches it now can attest.

For sophisticated family viewing.