Friday, May 31, 2019

Dominga Sotomayor's TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG: a Chilean artists' commune circa 1990

A kind of banner year for the country of Chile, 1990 saw the end of the murderous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The dawn of that year embodied by a New Year's Eve party proves the pivotal point in TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, the new film by Dominga Sotomayor, in which the filmmaker attempts to recapture a very specific period and place of her own youth, a small Bohemian commune in the hills far above the city of Santiago.

The result is a slow-paced but not uninteresting look at the young, the teenage and the adult world of that day, but without ever -- unless TrustMovies missed some offhand but loaded Chilean reference -- mentioning anything remotely political at all.

Instead, Ms Sotomayor's movie (the filmmaker is shown at right) covers the budding romantic, sexual and jealousy-laden lives of the teens, the often angry and sadder lives of the parents, and the free-wheeling fun had by the very young. The film opens and closes with a dog running along a road. But what a huge difference in feeling each of these scenes conveys. The filmmaker also uses a foreboding brush fire somewhat in the manner of Chekhov's gun.

In between there's a load of quite realistic, if somewhat generic dialog and behavior from pretty much all the characters involved here. (The filmmaker has used all fledgling performers to essay her leading roles.) And while we don't expect anything close to the liveliness and wit of, say, Noel Coward on display, one occasionally longs for something more from this mostly very non-communicative bunch.

The leading character is a budding young woman named Sofia, played very well indeed by newcomer Demian Hernández (shown above), whose activities and feelings pretty much anchor the movie. Sofia is being courted, sort of (if only he had more courage), by Lucas (Antar Machado, shown below, under Sofia)

but Sofia herself prefers the older and much more confidant Ignacio (Matías Oviedo, below, right), who knows just how to be, sequentially, appealing, seductive and shitty.

Señor Hernández -- the actor was in the middle of transgendering while the film was being made; he has now, we are told, made the transition fully -- is particularly good at looking pensive and confused, so that Sofia pulls us in and easily holds us in her questioning, questing grasp. (In an earlier rendition of this post, I had assumed that Hernández was transitioning from male to female; I apologize for that assumption.)

Still, it is the youngest generation, personified by Clara (Magdalena Totoro, below), who eventually makes us think and feel most. Clara proves the moral center of the film: Who she is, how she reacts, and what she finally does brings the movie to its fitting close.

Though the pace is slow and meandering, you may find a day or two after viewing it, that the film has stuck with you in ways you might not have expected. It is odd, too, that for or all the fraught historical baggage that the year 1990 carries for Chile, this particular movie could be taking place just about anywhere and at any time -- it's that "universal."

From Kim Stim and running 110 minutes, Too Late to Die Young (Tarde para morir joven), in Spanish with English  subtitles, opens today, Friday, May 31, in New York City at Film at Lincoln Center (the unnecessary new name for what we used to call the Film Society of Lincoln Center: Was the latter one too many words for today's audiences?), and then the following Friday, June 7, it will open at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles. Another eight cities across the country are scheduled for the weeks to come. Click here, then scroll down to click on PLAYDATES to learn if you're in the vicinity of any of these. Blu-ray, DVD and digital opportunities are also promised soon by this increasingly prolific distributor.

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