Direction: Dominga Sotomayor Castillo
Chilean writer/director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo became the first woman to win the grand prize for direction at Locarno Film Festival with the coming-of-age drama Too Late To Die Young. That feat was not achieved by mere chance since she has an extraordinary gift for portraying adolescent femininity with subtleness and deep feeling. Avoiding the common trappings associated with the genre, Sotomayor also contemplates the influence of the milieu and unresponsive family relations by making them relevant aspects in her story.
The film’s backdrop is rural Chile in 1990, right after the cease of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Sofia (Demian Hernández), an autonomous 16-year-old, is living in a community in the woods with her father, Roberto (Andrés Aliaga). The community has no power and their members hardly find drinkable water in the summer. This type of environment offers all the liberties to the youngsters, including smoking and drinking alcohol.
Despite willing to live with her mother, a celebrated singer whom she eagerly expects to join the group for a New Year’s Eve party, Sofia seems unworried as she keeps flirting with the guitar-aficionado Lucas (Antar Machado), who is her age and has a huge crush on her. However, when the slightly older Ignacio (Matías Oviedo) arrives at the place in his cool motorbike, an instant chemistry blossoms between him and Sofia. Emotional complexity installs and, in the end, frustration and disillusion hold sway, making almost impossible for us not to bare a jot of pity. The final scenes, centered on a dog that runs away from the community while a wildfire consumes the hills, somehow makes an uncanny parallelism between confinement and the freedom of choice.
Everything is strangely inward in mood in this keenly observed, affectionately articulated tale where the episodes unfold slowly toward a tough, inevitable, and definite conclusion. After all, this is more about the familiar and less about the forbidden. Sofia emanates that unpleasant sense of being trapped and one can’t escape that associative feeling too. No words are needed as both the look and behavior of Sofia put us across the emotional turmoil she’s in.
Focusing on giving a sincere portrayal of adolescence, Too Late To Die Young professes a turbulent intimacy with controlled pace and assured narrative construction.