Dying to Go Home – Mortinho por chegar a casa (1996)
Directed by: George Sluizer | 104 minutes | comedy | Actors: Diogo Infante, Maria d’Aires, Huub Stapel, Jack Wouterse, Martin Barbot, Anne Cavadino, Jacques Commandeur, Angelique de Bruijne, Arnold Gelderman, René Groothof, Cecília Guimarães, Herman José, Giam Kwee, João Lagarto, Lieneke le Roux
‘Dying to Go Home’ is a surprising project by filmmakers Carlos da Silva and George Sluizer. Although on paper it seems to be a rather ludicrous tale that has little chance of success, in practice it turns out to be a charming, touching and sometimes funny film about finding your roots, peace, love, and making the best of the world. cards you are dealt in life. The melancholic music, the acting (especially by Maria d’Aires), the authentic images of both Portugal and the Netherlands/Amsterdam, and the central theme about returning to your homeland, make ‘Dying to Go Home’ a beautiful, nostalgic portrait of a – literally – lost soul.
Although ‘Dying to Go Home’ turns out surprisingly well, not everything in the film is equally elegant or subtle. The bizarre way the filmmakers have found to kill the Amsterdam-based Portuguese Manuel Espirito Santo (holy spirit) (Diogo Infante) within two minutes has to be seen to be believed. Then the ghost effects, where they step through doors and other objects, are pretty clumsy and the rules of what ghosts can and cannot do in relation to the solid matter around them are not very consistent. But this applies to 99% of the films on this theme, so a knee kind that pays attention to that.
The film’s premise – or the main character’s motivation – is actually pretty flimsy, too. Because the ghost of a Chinese man tells Manuel that his bones have to go to his homeland to find peace, he immediately believes this. While he actually felt quite at home in Amsterdam. Anyway, a second opinion wasn’t really available (it was the only other ghost around) and yes, old Chinese men who look like Confucius – or a Kung Fu master – are of course always wise and you have to believe right away.
Later in the film, there are some more encounters with unknown ghosts and sleeping humans – because that’s the only way spirits can communicate with the living: in their dreams – that add little to the story; although the spirit of (explorer) Vasco Da Gama as a football fan is slightly amusing.
We actually ticked off the lesser points. Fortunately, the positives far outweigh them. Diogo Infante is likeable and charming enough to successfully lead the viewer through the story and, at times, really makes him feel how much he misses his Portuguese family and homeland. The scenes where his aunt and sister have to ignore him while they are eating and talking at the table and Manuel tries to make contact between them are also well done.
But what lifts the film to a higher level and manages to captivate the viewer almost continuously is the portrayal of Manuel’s sister Júlia Espírito Santo, by Maria d’Aires. Yes, she’s a pretty figure, and that helps, but it’s her engaging playing that keeps the viewer glued to the image. She knows how to convey her melancholic look, her amazement, the hope, the enthusiasm, the sadness, all those emotions convincingly. And although it seems an unlikely couple at first glance, she makes a nice match and a cute couple with Jack Wouterse, who shows his most sensitive side here.
The idea that your roots and homeland are very important for your identity is a theme that George Sluizer also explores in his documentaries about the two Palestinian families and certainly has value. Exactly how much of this idea survives is not entirely clear. The message seems to be that it’s mainly about the connections with friends and family and not so much the country you come from. If these tires are intact, you can feel at home anywhere.