Youth, love, and a lost dog survive fascism in Too Late to Die Young

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      Starring Demian Hernández. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      This smartly observed mood piece is set in a rural commune outside of Santiago, Chile, in 1990, just as the cloud of fascism has been lifted from young people, who suddenly have a lot to look forward to. For all their particularities, though, the place and time are secondary—as usual—to teenagers trying to test whatever hands they’ve been dealt.

      In her third feature, otherwise generous writer-director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo is stingy with the background info that would tie together characters of many ages and temperaments.

      Eventually, things narrow down to a pair of long-time pals whose horseplay has turned flirtatious now that they’ve turned 16.

      Also as usual, the boy—a shy, floppy-haired kid called Lucas (Antar Machado)—is lagging behind in the maturity department. Mercurial Sofía already has her eye on older lads, and is looking for a way to leave her dad, a taciturn luthier, and move back to Santiago, where her absent mother, a well-known singer, still lives.

      Her coming-of-age is further complicated by the assured yet edgy performance by first-timer Demian Hernández, a trans actor who has since transitioned to maleness. This adds more ambiguity to Sofía’s dilemma, although neither the director nor any of the characters make a big deal of it.

      Still, the movie could use a bit more clarity in some departments.

      It’s never readily apparent how some events, including a burglary, a fire, a big New Year’s Eve party, and a lost dog relate to the commune and its people.

      There are a lot of scenes built around people smoking and striking the kind of philosophical poses that bring more padding than depth to an already thin story.

      And it occasionally strains for more commercial montage effects that don’t sit well with the naturalistic flow.

      The film also bears a remarkable resemblance to Summer 1993, from two years ago, in which Spanish filmmaker Carla Simón hit very similar notes about a premillennial childhood among the “Bohemians”.

      Still, Too Late weaves its own spell, one that will resonate with many people who were once young and are starting to forget what that was all about.