Too Late to Die Young, the third feature from Chilean filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, is a tale of growing up in a commune amidst nature and simpler ways of living. Having little by way of plot, the film has a gentle, freewheeling quality, focusing instead on experiences, moments and sensations.
Too Late to Die Young is autobiographical in the sense that it grew out of Castillo’s own experiences of growing up in a rural commune and is imbued with a sense of nostalgia, its wistfulness extending not just to its world of idyllic community living where painters and musicians pursue their art free from outside distractions, but also to the idea of lost adolescence.
Set in 1990, after the end of Chilean dictatorship, a sense of slow transition flows through the film as it touches upon the lives of teenagers Sofía (Demian Hernández) and Lucas (Antar Machado) who experience the changes of young adulthood even as the environment they exist within shows little day-to-day variation. With no electricity or the incursions of modern technology, the film looks at a kind of simple living where the days have a rambling quality with children playing in tree houses, drinking from streams and learning to shift gears as they drive around on the local dirt roads.
The film stays throughout within this organic and self-sufficient world, never leaving it once for the conventional urban lives and spaces its members have presumably left behind. There are shots with people just at the edges of the frame pointing perhaps to how closely they belong to this environment, not separate from or more important than it, and when a forest fire breaks out – the threat of which lurks throughout – they will do their utmost to save it.
Gentle narrative strands exist such as that of Sofía’s estranged relationship with her father, her hope that her mother will join them for the new year celebrations following which she will go and stay with her in the city, the dog that Clara (Magdalena Tótoro), a younger member of the commune, loses early on and keeps looking for throughout or the new year’s party that is announced at the start and in which some of the running plotlines reach their respective turning points. However, the story elements are never forceful letting the film truly breathe in its in-between moments – in Lucas’s longing glances at Sofía that go unnoticed, or in the way its closing moments look to its beginning in its repetition of the image of a dog bounding down a dirt path through swirling mist.
Concepts of time and place similarly do not assert, allowing a sense of ambiguity to prevail. Coming-of-age themes of love, sex and the inevitable disappointments and realisations that arrive with adulthood are all there, beautifully realised through a self-assured central performance by debutant Demian Hernández. Too Late to Die Young is Castillo’s remarkable endeavour to relive memories, sensations and lived moments from a time and place she has long since left behind.