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New Release Review - TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG

too late to die young review
In '90s Chile, a rural commune prepares to ring in the new year.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Dominga Sotomayor Castillo

Starring: Demian Hernández, Antar Machado, Magdalena Tótoro, Matías Oviedo

too late to die young poster


Writer/director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo's third feature, Too Late to Die Young, is being heavily advertised in English speaking territories as coming from the producers of Call Me by Your Name, and to a large degree it plays like a heterosexual companion piece to Luca Guadagnino's acclaimed queer drama. Like that movie, it's set in the recent past in an idyllic part of the world and features protagonists who live a charmed, privileged existence, though the characters here have chosen to 'rough it', living in the woods like those of recent indie hits Captain Fantastic and Leave No Trace.

What distinguishes Castillo's film from those aforementioned is its distinctly feminine viewpoint, presenting us with a teenage protagonist in 16-year-old Sofia (a striking debut from Demian Hernández), who it's easy to surmise might be a proxy for the filmmaker, who had a similar upbringing.


too late to die young review

Too Late to Die Young takes us back to the Chile of 1990. Fascist dictator General Pinochet has been ousted from power and there's a particularly hopeful party atmosphere in the days leading up to New Year's Eve. As her nation is going through revolutionary changes, Sofia is herself transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, a process made all the more difficult by the absence of her mother, a famous singer who refused to join her father in living in an artistic commune in the hills above Santiago, a city whose lights can be glimpsed in the background of nocturnal scenes like some great overturned Christmas tree.

Taking place over roughly a week in the run up to a New Year's Eve celebration, which the commune's residents have put much planning into, Too Late to Die Young is low on plot but heavy on establishing an immersive sense of time and place. Taking place in the era before such intrusive tools as the internet and cellphones, the film suggests this is the last time the lifestyle it portrays could be enjoyed without interruption, and the movie's dramatic climax proposes that all concerned can no longer continue their way of life.


too late to die young review

Far from a hagiography of this way of life, Castillo's film is quietly judgmental of its protagonists. The commune members are all arty farty types who would no doubt consider themselves good liberals, but like class-reversed gypsies, they view the working class residents of the town whose outskirts they have pitched up on with condescension and contempt. When a missing dog turns up at a local's home, money is used to pry the animal from the arms of a tearful young girl who has since adopted the animal, and it's later implied that it may not even be the same dog. The antics of the commune's children, which will later have dire consequences, are blamed on resentful locals. A brawl breaks out when two male commune members hit the town, their heads swimming with alcohol and entitlement.

Yet while Castillo's film is so concerned with its physical and natural environment, and how its characters interact and coexist within their surrounds, it's first and foremost the story of a young woman fumbling her way out of the cocoon of adolescence and attempting to spread her adult wings. Early on, Sofia is berated by her father when he spots her puffing on a cigarette. "I'm a smoker now Dad," is her curt response, and in this simple exchange we're given the dynamic between Sofia and her father; perhaps that of all fathers and daughters, the former wishing they could slow down the latter's growth, the latter wishing for just the opposite.


too late to die young review

Sofia's growth is accelerated when Ignacio (Matías Oviedo), a handsome twentysomething drifter, arrives at the commune to spend the holidays. From the off, it's clear to anyone older than Sofia that the object of her affection is a bit of a slimey douchebag, yet the film never submits their relationship as something for the viewer to scorn. Rather Castillo presents it as a necessary rite of passage. We know heartbreak is inevitable, but perhaps also essential. Said heartbreak also extends to Lucas (Antar Machado), the sensitive teenage troubadour who is head over heels with the sullen Sofia. Again, while we feel sympathy with Lucas, we never root for him to find romance with Sofia, and we get the impression both these teenagers will learn more from heartbreak than facile fulfillment.

A counterpoint to Sofia's headlong rush to adulthood is represented by her 10-year-old sister Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) and her attachment to the aforementioned ambiguous pooch. Castillo's film opens and closes with the image of the canine galloping through the dust, but tellingly in opposite directions, Clara's heart as hardened by her animal's betrayal as Sofia is by her dubious lover. Does childhood end when you first experience sex, or when your dog runs away?

Too Late to Die Young is in UK/ROI cinemas May 24th.


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