A conceptual British arthouse movie that fails to turn all the talk into walk.
Jon Sanders' Late September opens with a gentle wind wafting the net drapes of a window that looks out on a lush autumnal garden. It’s a long shot setting a gorgeous, wistful mood. Sadly, the film’s unerring sense of stillness gives way to stagnation and eventually boredom.
A birthday celebration in a Kent country house is the trigger for this low-budget exploration of the seething undercurrents among a group of sixtysomething-year old friends. Conceptually, it’s The Big Chill for the cinematically-neglected Saga generation.
Hosts are Gillian (Anna Mottram) and birthday boy, Ken (Richard Vanstone), a long-married couple who invite sly old goat Jim (Bob Goody), newly single Annie (Charlotte Palmer), and assorted other old friends and relatives to celebrate this landmark occasion. As the day progresses, tensions within the group float to the surface and in some cases explode.
The improvised dialogue is poorly paced which instantly removes any tension. Even so, Mottram brings out the alternately endearing and pathetic nature of a character that clings to good manners even as the foundations of her life crumble. Meanwhile, the vice-like grip each character has on their booze o' choice feels an apt observation, a crutch for a middle class crisis.
The composition is occasionally so static that one occasionally fears the screen has frozen. This deliberate slowness transcends ineptitude and makes you wonder whether this is a daring simulation of the awkward pace of real life. But this style is not à la mode for a reason. Sneaking 40 winks while a frozen actor runs through a mental checklist of possible reactions breaks the story-telling spell.
Long takes and the use of natural light create a stagey atmosphere which bombs in later outdoor scenes where the candle light gives the picture a flat, amateurish feel.
Sanders has shot Late September in keeping with The Belgrade Manifesto – a set of rules that prizes storytelling over budget. Signed by Aki Kaurismäki and Alexander Sokurov, the manifesto is clearly credible, though judging by this effort – undone by distracting departures from conventional filmmaking – Sanders has his work cut out to turn all the talk into walk.
That rare beast: A British arthouse movie.
Darkness and stillness recreate the conditions of naptime.
Silence between the lines emerges dominant.