Review

Uncanny complexity punctuates Arturo Ripstein's searing 1966 feature debut 'Time to Die'

An austere western that kicks up a slowly blinding storm of dust, regret and vengeance, a restored “Time to Die” is making its way into American movie theaters 52 years after Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein made his debut as a feature director with it, boasting a screenplay from the titanic team-up of Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes.

Only 21 at the time, Ripstein was closer in age to the story’s fatherless Trueba sons (Enrique Rocha and Alfredo Leal) than paunchy, middle-aged Juan Sayago (Jorge Martínez de Hoyos), who quietly reappears in town after serving 18 years in prison for killing the boys’ father in self-defense. The Truebas have sworn to avenge their dad’s death. But it’s Juan’s mixture of resignation about his fate, and hard-won wisdom and sensitivity — he enjoys knitting now with former flame Mariana (Marga López) — that Ripstein understands with uncanny complexity, and burnishes like a rough-cut gem of honor in a bed of toxic masculinity.

Shot in a crisp black-and-white that treasures bleak long shots as much as thrillingly nervous camera movement, “Time to Die” turns the showdown narrative of so many oaters into an actively intelligent, darkly funny and no less suspenseful rumination on the pull of the horizon versus the ill wind at the back.

At the time, it turned Mexican westerns on their head, and augured a bright future for Ripstein, who partly cut his teeth in film working on the set of Luis Buñuel’s “The Exterminating Angel.” The handoff from one noted iconoclast to another is more than evident in the stark, knotty vigor of “Time to Die.”

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‘Time to Die’

Not rated

In Spanish with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills

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