Culture

Film Review: Too Late to Die Young

A rustic commune outside Santiago serves as the backdrop for this Chilean coming-of-age story.
Stray Dogs

This article is adapted from AQ’s latest issue on Latin America's anti-corruption movement.

The latest feature from Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor is, as she puts it, “an invitation to another time.”

Set just outside Santiago in the summer of 1989, this moody coming-of-age story addresses Chile’s uneasy transition to democracy only indirectly. The director, whose dissonant portrayals of family life draw comparisons to Argentine contemporary Lucrecia Martel, has teamed up with producers from 2017’s award-winning Call Me By Your Name to tell a story inspired by her own upbringing.

The film takes place in a rustic ecological commune at the top of a hill, and follows Sofía (Demian Hernández), a teenager desperate to change her surroundings, as she meanders through the days between Christmas and the new year. Free-wheeling kids prepare for an upcoming party, flirting, teasing and playing music along the way. One family descends from the commune into nearby Santiago in search of a lost dog, only to realize they have returned home with a doppelgänger. Belonging and property are tricky concepts in the cloistered community, where free-spirited parents have come to take their families off the grid.

This communal lifestyle itself is also in jeopardy, as the families face an unseen threat that ransacks half-built homes and disconnects their water supply. The question of whether the saboteur is an outsider or one of their own creates a subtext of suspicion throughout the film. As Sofía reckons with heartbreak after New Year’s Eve, the adults barely have time to sober up before disaster strikes.

Anchored by an ensemble cast of local actors from the actual commune where the film takes place, the script focuses less on dialogue than on images, often earthy tableaus of dysfunction in the dusty surroundings of early summer. Music also plays a central role, recalling Sotomayor’s own childhood playing and hearing the music of two generations, from international alt rock to traditional Chilean folk. Memorable renditions of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” (in English and Spanish) and Sofía’s moving performance at a New Year’s Eve party communicate more than most of the conversations.

Hernández’s enigmatic portrayal of adolescence in flux is not without its teen movie tropes: romantic intrigue, brooding cigarette breaks and frenetic late-night outings to the city. But ultimately, the quiet chaos and tragedy of Too Late to Die Young reveal how Sofía’s fitful transition to adulthood echoes Chile’s uncertainty at the turn of a pivotal decade.

Written and directed by: Dominga Sotomayor
Starring: Demian Hernández, Antar Machado, Magdalena Tótoro
Country: Chile
AQ’s Rating: 7/10

Miller is production editor for AQ

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Culture, film review, Chile


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