Director Jon Sanders’ third feature Late September (2012) is a lumbering, tiresome arthouse experiment that cheaply muses on the relationship of a couple who realise, after forty years, that their marriage is failing. Shot over a 24-hour period, the film follows Ken (Richard Vanstone) and Gillian (Anna Mottram) in and around their picturesque cottage in Kent as they prepare for Ken’s 65th birthday.
Tensions between the couple quickly become apparent through their frequent bickering and snide remarks. As this brutal portrayal of the realities of love plays out, we are introduced to a host of characters, each in their own stages and forms of relationships, moving towards an unsatisfying and tiresome conclusion. Sanders’ attempt to explore the failing marriages of the post-war generation is nothing if not poorly thought-out. It fails to capture the subject’s complexities, instead offering merely surface-level emotion.
Rather than achieving the desired result of realistic dialogue, the cast’s improvised performances come across as amateurish and contrived, failing to develop the themes of Late September in a coherent and captivating manner. Sanders decides to shoot in natural light (perhaps a budgetary, as well as artistic decision?), yet the result is an untidy aesthetic. This is best illustrated by those scenes shots at night, as it’s near impossible to see the featured characters on screen.
Dealing with dysfunctional or damaged relationships is well-plundered territory, particularly in contemporary British cinema. Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago (2010) and Mike Leigh’s Another Year (2010) carefully examine martial/romantic strife in a middle to upper-class context, and do so with cutting precision. Sanders seems more concerned with how his film was made rather than asking why audiences should be interested in the dynamics of his explored relationships. In some respects, Late September could be admired for being produced within such a tight schedule, and on a very low budget. Some viewers may also be able to relate to the situations the central characters find themselves in, but with such unconvincing performances and bad direction, the result barely evokes any tangible empathy.
Sanders may have found a way to make his latest feature quickly and on a low budget, but seems to have forgotten that captivating characters and well-written dialogue can make or break a film. Sadly, Late September definitely falls into the ‘broken beyond repair’ category.