Dominga Sotomayor’s Too Late to Die Young shows us, more than anything, how difficult it really is to make that massive shift mentally in our teens while we are growing up. It explores the lives of a few teenagers and children and along with that also explores their psyche, trying to present to the viewer an honest rendition of the different emotional difficulties that one comes across while growing up.
Too Late to Die Young is set in 1990 when Chile has just overthrown a dictator and is trying to reassemble itself into a democracy; although these political developments have nothing to do with the story. The film shows a group of families who live far away from civilization in an ecological community, where they don’t even have electricity. Random forest fires are the only looming problems in the lives of these artists, writers and intellectuals who think they reside within their own utopia. The film focuses mainly on the lives of 16-year-old Sofia (Demian Hernandez) and Lucas (Antar Machado) and the 10-year-old Clara (Magdalena Totoro). The film takes place over a few days as the families prepare for a grand New Year’s party.
The film is a semi-autobiographical story as Sotomayor too lived in such an ecological community in the laps of nature with her parents in a setting similar to that of the film, albeit she says she was too young to remember anything. The inspiration for the film was a VHS tape that she had found many years later about a forest fire in their community, which shapes the story of the film as well.
The main aspect of the film that really caught my eye is character development. Sotomayor creates some interesting and complex teenage characters with her film. There’s Sofia, whose mother is a very popular singer but she has to reside in the community with her father. She is very ambitious, aspiring to go live with her mother in the city and start a new life there. Her ambitious nature easily attracts Ignacio, one of the adults who visit the community regularly. Sofia spends her time smoking and flirting with Ignacio while chalking out her plans of moving out. Lucas, a guitarist who’s a good friend of hers is romantically inclined towards Sofia but never gets his message across to her and neither receives the attention he seeks no matter how he tries. Then there’s Clara, the 10-year-old who mostly spends her time in the film looking for her lost dog Frida, and is very difficult to understand as is all children of her age, something Sotomayor wanted to point out.
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The director also does a great job of portraying the raw and arid nature of the settlement. The setting plays a crucial part in the story and the director shows different parts of the settlement to us to give us a picture of the location. That being said, the film does feel a bit too dragged sometimes along with another flaw which is that none of the adults really seem to have any proper depth to their character and they seem kind of lost within the whole narrative.
The cinematography of the film is gorgeous. It portrays the hot and dusty setting excellently. A lot in the film is said through mannerisms and emotions and the camera focuses on the characters when such moments occur, sharing the conflicts of the characters with the viewer as well.
Demian Hernandez must be mentioned for her brilliant portrayal of Sofia. The 20-year-old Chilean actress shines in her debut. She brings out the conflicts that Sofia has mentally, whether to move to the city or whether to continue her romantic pursuit of Ignacio in an excellent fashion that really had me engrossed in her character the most. Whether it was smoking a cigarette in the bathtub or singing a heart touching rendition of The Bangles’ Eternal Flame in the New Year’s Party on her accordion, she carried herself smartly, without any hint of nervousness (as you might expect from a debutant).
Too Late to Die Young is a good coming-of-age film that does manage to charm you with its characters and camera work but it did leave me wanting for more. But I can completely overlook that knowing Sotomayor shares the same love as me for Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” which plays twice in the film, the original version in a stunningly shot scene where Sofia smokes a cigarette in the bathtub, and a Spanish rendition in the end credits of the film.
Dominga Sotomayor won the Best Director award for Too Late to Die Young at this year’s Locarno International Film Festival.
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An aspiring programmer by passion, Tuhin is a serial procrastinator and is occupied with three M’s – Movies, Music and Manchester United. He is obsessed with the use of colour in films, something he pours out more often than not on his Facebook page.