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Case Number 03973: Small Claims Court

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Dust To Dust (Por La Libre)

Fox // 2000 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // February 26th, 2004

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All Rise...

The Charge

A road trip through life and friendship.

The Case

On the road to Acapulco, Rocco (Osvaldo Benavides) tells his cousin Rodrigo (Rodrigo Cachero) about a story he read in a magazine. The people of Mozambique, it seems, exhume the bones of deceased relatives on the first anniversary of their deaths and take the dearly departed out for a night on the town. Rodrigo is appalled. Rocco explains, "They believe the dead manipulate the fate of the living."

This is the central theme of Dust to Dust, a road comedy that follows the adventures of the odd-couple cousins as they carry their grandfather's urn to Acapulco in order to cast his ashes into the sea. The old man dies at the beginning of the film after learning his son, Rocco's father, is marrying again, his series of wives having gotten progressively younger until this new one is not much older than Rocco. The grandsons take on their quest when their fathers show more interest in dividing the old man's material possessions than honoring his final wishes; neither son will alter his busy schedule in order to make the trip to Acapulco to scatter the ashes.

The grandsons are opposites—Rocco a pot-smoking slacker, Rodrigo a clean-cut prude with a pretty girlfriend and his eye on the future—and begin the film disliking each other intensely. One of the many entertaining scenes in the picture is a requisite travel montage, made fresh by the boys' warring over what radio station they will listen to. With each cut between shots of their grandfather's vintage Mercedes whizzing down various highways, the music bounces between Rodrigo's Latin pop and Rocco's Rage Against the Machine. Their differences give way to mutual respect, of course, as they make their way across Mexico. It's just as the old man would have wanted, his love of one boy matched only by his love of the other. This sense of the dead manipulating the fate of the living is reinforced by the way the boys interact with the golden urn, include it in their decision-making, defer to it, treat it as if it were the old man, alive and to be respected as an elder.

Another sense of the old man's manipulation of the boys' lives, and the lives of the entire family, is revealed in the second half of the movie when Rocco and Rodrigo arrive at their destination and find an answer to a question they've pondered during their journey, "Why Acapulco?" The answer gives shape to the whys of their fathers' alienation from the old man, and, in turn, their alienation from their fathers. The boys learn that they don't exist in a generational vacuum, but are who they are because of the men who came before them and gave them life. The challenge they're faced with moving forward is to embrace that truth and live their lives with a gusto equal to their grandfather's. In light of all that, the English title, Dust to Dust, is a poor substitute for the film's original Spanish title, Por la Libre, which is more lyrical and resonates with the concepts of freedom and self-determination.

The Acapulco part of the film also features some intensely bizarre twists of plot that make Dust to Dust a unique light comedy, as opposed to a strictly-by-the-numbers affair. I'll say no more for fear of spoiling the fun, except that the twists don't alter the film's comic tone. As a matter of fact, one turn of plot would normally make skin crawl, but the movie's unflinching treatment of it as absurdist comedy makes it somehow palatable. This is a funny film with charming performances by its lead actors, and it has the good sense to use those assets to go places off limits to lesser comedies.

Fox's presentation of Dust to Dust is top-notch. The quality of both the audio and video presentations on this disc is above and beyond reasonable expectations for a relatively obscure foreign title. The image is presented at the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. Colors are natural, edge enhancement is controlled, and dirt and damage are so minor and isolated one has to be looking to notice them (hey, it's my job). The audio presentation is even more impressive than the video. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track offered on this disc is surprisingly immersive considering Dust to Dust is a film with little in the way of action or special effects. There's a lot of subtle directional panning used during the driving sequences, and the track is spatially keen, using the full stage to locate sounds accurately. It's the wrap-around presentation of Gabriela Ortiz's music, though, that makes the track stand out.

The only extras on the disc are trailers for Lucia, Lucia and an advertisement for Fox's Cinema Latino line of releases.

Dust to Dust is a warm, light-hearted comedy with just enough surprises to distinguish it among its crowd of peers. Both the film and DVD are found not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Foreign

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


• IMDb

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