Too Late to Die Young Review
Chilean writer-director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo had firmly established herself on the festival circuit thanks to a number of award-winning shorts and her two previous full-length efforts, Thursday Till Sunday and Mar. So it felt like a natural progression that her third feature, Too Late to Die Young, would go one step further to collect the award for best director at the esteemed Locarno Film Festival last year.
Set in her native country at the start of the ‘90s, it serves as a coming-of-age story for a 16-year-old girl and the re-awakening of a nation after the shadow of General Pinochet is finally lifted and the idea of democracy and freedom lingers on the horizon. Castillo’s film concerns itself with the small, intimate details of life for those living on the outskirts of Santiago, with the spirit of political change embodied by a young generation who would later be charged with shaping the direction of the country once out of their childhoods.
Visually, Castillo’s hazy, nostalgic look back at this key period in the country’s recent history is akin to watching events as seen through a series of washed out Polaroid pictures. Cinematographer Inti Briones’ gorgeous photography captures the warmth of the summer setting and the imagination of the characters seen passing through his rustic frames. By entrenching us into their daily rituals and everyday lives, the smallest of glances and exchanges of dialogue provide a rich insight into the thoughts and relationship dynamics occurring between this large group of friends and families.
Castillo positions Chile as a country on the cusp of emerging from its adolescence (it is just over 200-years-old) by using some of her own childhood experiences to infuse the story. 16-year-old Sofia (Demian Hernández) lives with her father in a small community close to the feet of the Andes, eager for her famous singer-mother to visit and ask her to live in nearby Santiago where she dreams of broadening her horizons. Around her the adults can be seen debating the merits of purchasing nearby land and installing a new water pipe system. In the evenings they live by candlelight rather than electricity, and the locals come together to share summer and New Year’s Eve celebrations in languid style.
Sofia’s changing view of herself and the immediate world around her is given prominence, but Castillo also incorporates that of her 10-year-old cousin, Clara (Magdalena Tótoro). Sofia is of an age where she is eager to step beyond the limits of her rural lifestyle to demonstrate her maturity by driving, smoking and becoming romantically involved with an older man, while Clara is slowly edging towards her early teenage years where the interests of girls Sofia’s age begin overlapping into her own. A subplot involving her dog Frida represents this change and their final interaction serves as a symbolic moment for the wider political themes that quietly rest in the background. These small observational moments show what a masterful grip Castillo has on revealing how the two girl's interactions with the lives of those older than themselves vicariously shape their steps into womanhood.
Running at almost two hours, Too Late to Die Young welcomes the viewer into the dusty warmth of the inviting Chilean heat, the film’s leisurely pace never feeling too slow or weighty. While the men stay largely on the peripheral we are still given fleeting but meaningful glimpses into the inner-lives of the gawky Lucas (Antar Machado) who pines after Sofia, and her sullen father whose relationship has broken down with his daughter since separating from her mother. Uncertainty can be felt amongst the adults as a new dawn arrives and through Sofia’s eagerness to abandon her childhood only to discover the next phase may not be as clear cut as she imagined.
There are some small moments of drama interspersed within the narrative, but mostly Castillo informs her characters through the picturesque framing of their lives. The textured layering of her world creates a uniquely dense atmosphere unlike almost anything else you are likely to see this year. It provides a snapshot of a time and place where a country and its people were ready to embrace something new, outwardly projecting their memories and hopes even when they did not know for sure what it was that awaited them.
Too Late to Die Young opens in select UK cinemas on May 24.