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First Look Review - SOUTH MOUNTAIN

south mountain review
A woman readjusts her life in the aftermath of her husband leaving her for another woman.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Hilary Brougher

Starring: Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Michael Oberholtzer

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What a wonderful film Hilary Brougher’s (writer/director/actual mother’s house used as locations) low-key melodrama South Mountain is. Set within the evocatively fertile greenery of the Catskills range, South Mountain follows Lila (Talia Balsam: giving, in a reverse nominative determinism, a superbly nuanced performance), a matriarch to a brood of not-quite-adults-yet children and step-children, their lively mates, and her handsome husband Edgar (Scott Cohen) who, due to working on the road, very often isn’t present at the idyllic shotgun shack where the family live. However, in the grand tradition of feckless men of a certain age who, at a certain point, ask themselves "how did they get there?", it turns out that Edgar has been playing away. We discover this via a phone call Edgar suddenly must take during a family gathering, wherein, behind closed doors, he witnesses the birth of his son over Facetime.

south mountain review

Generalising never helps, but there is truth in the maxim that men have mid-life crises, while their female counterparts face mid-life challenges. Before you can say "it’s a boy" (Edgar’s other all but grown up children are female), Edgar has fessed up and is off, leaving Lila to pick up the pieces and maintain some semblance of normalcy for their progeny.

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What follows is a vividly detailed, subtle drama which presents a genuinely felt upheaval. Because the thing with actual upheavals is that life does, sometimes in the most callous of manners, carry on, doesn’t it? And when the bubble of a relationship bursts, the outside world seems to loom in ways that it didn’t when you were safely ensconced within the illusory remove of marriage. For a start, there is always someone who has it worse than you, and for Lila this is her best friend Gigi (Andrus Nichols), who has cancer. Over the episodically paced, year long narrative, we see Gigi reduced from a proud extrovert who has no bones about getting her tits out in the family sauna to a smaller woman in a headscarf as the disease commandeers her. The time transitions imply the inevitable and speedy cruelties of her condition in a way that is both pragmatic and incredibly moving.

south mountain review

The time-step narrative also demonstrates the different velocities of how Lila deals with the abrupt  breakdown of her marriage, which ranges from a reasonable and mature acceptance borne from the wider need for stability, to molten fury, to an affair with one of her daughter’s mates. The lad is handsome in that American telly way (you know, like the brothers in Supernatural or similar), and the delicacy of how Brougher films the fling - gentle touches, deep anxious kisses - is lucidly sensual and compassionate.

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This affair is central to the thematic resonance of South Mountain. On the face of it, it’s just sex: but the generation gap gives the union an (unfair?) illicitness which means that Lila has to furtively hide the interaction from her daughters in a manner which contrasts her ex’s actual indiscretions, as the girls still seem quite simpatico with their estranged dad. Following the affair, Lila seems to grow a foot taller, and begins to stand up a bit more to her shagabout ex fella. For his part, finding out about the liaison sends him into a proprietary rage.

south mountain review


Within this elegantly human drama, Brougher draws matter of fact distinctions between our diverse social expectations of men and women: Lila is often seen preparing and serving food for the various comings and goings of the wider circle, for instance. Edgar, along with everyone else, just seems to come and go. It is a measure of this film’s quiet strength that it ultimately finds a peaceful purpose within Lila’s situation.

A release date has yet to be announced.




2020 film reviews