A man returns to the dusty village of his youth after an 18-year absence. A couple is fleetingly reunited after decades apart. A pair of hot-headed brothers seeks to avenge a murder they neither witnessed nor fully comprehend. There is a gun battle.
In many ways, “Tiempo de Morir” (“A Time to Die”), the 1966 debut drama by Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, a protegé of Luis Buñuel, fits squarely within the category of western — in which life-and-death issues of honor and justice play out amid lawlessness and parched landscapes.
But the film may be most notable for the writer behind its screenplay, a former journalist from Colombia by the name of Gabriel García Márquez.
Before “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the novel that would change his life and the world of Latin American letters, before the Nobel Prize for Literature, before he got into a legendary, mysterious fistfight with Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, García Márquez worked as a screenwriter. He wrote the story “Tiempo de Morir” at Ripstein’s request and then adapted it for film with the help of a friend, who happened to be the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes.
The film touches on many of the themes that would materialize in García Márquez’s fiction — tradition, propriety, fate. It is a story of vengeance that is also at its essence about the dynamics of family. And there is the setting that feels as if it’s at a remove from reality.
Now this early cinematic work is getting a rare public viewing in Los Angeles.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, Libros Schmibros, the nonprofit lending library based in Boyle Heights, has organized a one-night, outdoor screening at the Ford Theatres in Hollywood on Friday night. Introducing the film will be the author’s son, filmmaker Rodrigo García (most recently of “Last Days in the Desert,” starring Ewan McGregor).
“I love the simplicity of the story — yet it still has power,” García says of his father’s film. “It’s a guy who returns home after serving time after killing someone in a duel. He thinks it’s over. But the dead man’s sons don’t think it’s over. It has this Greek tragedy aspect to it — that your future is already written. You can’t escape your past.”
David Kipen, founder of Libros Schmibros, says he wanted to bring “Tiempo de Morir” to Los Angeles, “not just as García Márquez’s film, but as a debut work of an important filmmaker.” He also points out that along with the directing of Ripstein, moviegoers can take in “the great work of the cinematographer Alex Phillips and the composer Carlos Jiménez Mabarak, who did the score.”
For Kipen, the showing also represents an opportunity to do something different from the panoply of outdoor summer screenings held around Los Angeles, which are strong on “Pretty in Pink” and “Pulp Fiction,” but not so hot when it comes to presenting historic Mexican film (or Mexican film in general).
“I want to show that there is an audience for more than ‘Top Gun,’” he says, “for something entertaining, literate, literary.”