Too Late to Die Young
Watching Too Late to Die Young (Tarde Para Morir Joven) felt like being carried by a gentle stream. Sure, there were some sharp edges and cold spots along the way that jostled me a bit, but it had a dreamlike, even-keeled quality I haven't found in many Hollywood movies.
This latest offering from Chilean writer/director Dominga Sotomayor (Thursday Till Sunday) is about a group of children growing up in a commune during the hot summer of 1990, inspired by her own similar upbringing. Up the mountain and quite a drive from the nearest city, a loosely organized group of families have created an intentional community where the children rove in packs, everybody knows everybody else’s stories, and decisions are made together.
Yet it’s not the finer points of commune life, or Chile’s changing socio-political climate which drive the story. Rather, we get to look through the eyes and ears of three young people reckoning with their adolescence in the midst of very peculiar and chaotic surroundings. I was honestly expecting more plot and politics (after all, Chile’s military dictatorship had just ended!) but was pretty delighted that instead, I got to see a sweeter, more universal story that was so easy for me to relate to, even though I grew up in totally different circumstances!
Ten-year-old Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) is a curious and observant child, who insists that she is only too little “on the outside.” And teenagers Sofía (Demian Hernández) and Lucas (Antar Machado) are wrestling with first loves, the ache to drive on the open road, and figuring out their own bodies and friendships. The plot builds around fairly mundane moments, like Clara’s dog going missing, or the big upcoming New Year’s party. But even moments which seem insignificant to an outsider can have a monumental and lasting impact in the life of a child. I, too, remember plotting with my fellow tiny comrades on how to best keep ourselves awake ‘til dawn during sleepovers. I too, remember the joyful, terrifying rush of the steering wheel beneath my fingers when I first barrelled onto the interstate at sixteen years old.
While not a thrilling suspense or a splashy blockbuster, this movie has a truly charming quietness and is noticeably created by people who know how to frame a good shot and catch the ideal light. The score and soundtrack are also perfect to set the tone; the viewer only hears music when actual music is being played in the film, either from a battery-powered cassette player or from live musicians. I loved the almost dreamlike direction and camera work, and how the scruff, pale landscape of the dry brush and rocks is framed bright and clear, rather than bleak, even without many flowers or green things. From the brittle brush to the hanging moss, everything looks so flammable – I was constantly anxious that it all might go up in smoke at any moment. It’s a fitting reminder of the fragility of their commune, and of youth itself. Beautiful, but so vulnerable.
This was the first screening I got to enjoy as a member of the press at the New York Film Festival, and I’ll admit, it wasn’t the most thrilling start to the week. But the more I reflect on it, the more I’m glad I got to see it, and the more impressed I am by different elements like the performances and the cinematography. Because of its slow-moving pace and thin plot, Too Late to Die Young might not be everyone’s perfect Friday night flick. But for subtlety, and the small, beautiful moments that make up the way childhood morphs into adolescence, it’s a winner for sure.