Manuel DiogoInfante Julia Maria D’Aires Max Jack Wouterse Joris Huub Stapel Kootchi-Tung Phoa Yan Tiong Aunt Maria Cecilia Guimaraes
(Dutch, Portuguese and English dialogue)
Earthy rusticity and ethereal eccentricity from Portugal combine with droll northern European humor in “Dying to Go Home,” a charming comedy-romance about an expatriate ghost anxious to be put to rest in his native land. A tandem project of Portuguese producer-turned-director Carlos da Silva and seasoned Dutch helmer George Sluizer, this light but flavorful Euro dish should follow fest bookings with quality TV dates and perhaps some limited art-house outings.
In the accomplished opening sequence a tree is felled, evicting a swarm of angry bees from their home. They cause panic in a passing motorcyclist, who lands on hapless pedestrian Manuel Espirito Santo (Diogo Infante). The Portuguese immigrant comes to in an Amsterdam cemetery, where Chinese fellow ghost Kootchi-Tung (Phoa Yan Tiong) informs him of the impossibility of a peaceful afterlife while his bones remain far from home.
Spirited back to the childhood village he abandoned 15 years earlier, Manuel enters the dreams of his sister Julia (Maria D’Aires), who learns of her brother’s death and of the inheritance he left her, which includes a bar and a yacht. Arriving in Holland, however, she finds the bar is a debtridden dive and the yacht an unsailable tub. Manuel’s friends and business partners, Max (Jack Wouterse) and Joris (Huub Stapel), look to her to pay Manuel’s funeral expenses and authorize the sale of the bar.
While Manuel receives a spiritual education from Kootchi-Tung, Julia clears his debts by revamping the bar as a Portuguese eatery. Gradually, the unworldly country girl is seduced by the libertarian pleasures of Amsterdam and the gentle affections of chubby, congenial Max. By invading the couple’sdreams, Manuel makes them understand the urgency of his repatriation.
The film’s melange of tones — realist, surreal, ironically comical and supernatural — is unexpectedly harmonious. Not dissimilar in feel to the Sonia Braga starrer “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands,” the comedy has an affably light touch at recounting ghostly frustrations. Further dimensions are added with the humorous treatment of the immigrant experience, and the tender development of romance between Julia and Max.
Warm, winning turns from Infante (who resembles John Cusack in both looks and twitchy comic sense) and Wouterse are standouts in the appealing cast. The good-looking production moves at an agreeable pace, with a hand from the jaunty, folkloric melodies of young Portuguese group Quatro Portango.