Eye For Film >> Movies >> Late September (2012) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jeff Robson
If you’re looking for the polar opposite of the big, formulaic setpiece-driven summer blockbuster, look no further. Sanders’ melancholic, low-key meditation on human relationships in many ways seems the perfect film for a typical British summer – somewhat gloomy overall but with an underlying warmth and occasional flashes of brilliance.
It centres on a house in Kent, where Ken (Richard Vanstone) and Gilly (Anna Mottram), his wife of 31 years, are preparing a party for Ken’s 65th birthday. As friends, children and step-children gather, unpack and chat around the kitchen table it soon becomes apparent that the happy couple are anything but, barely able to sustain a conversation for two minutes before quarrelling.
Their fellow guests either tiptoe around the situation or seem blissfully unaware of it – particularly Ken’s best mate Jim (Bob Goody), a bibulous ageing hippy whose tribute to his mucker and the old girl trigger the first of two devastating plot developments that form the film’s core.
Plot is, however, secondary to character and mood here. Jon Sanders, an industry veteran, was a co-author of the Belgrade Manifesto in 2007, which championed quality low-budget filmmaking and like its predecessor, 2008’s Low Tide, Late September uses real time, long takes, natural light and improvised dialogue to create an organic, realistic and intense study of marital unhappiness and lives unfulfilled.
The similarities with the work of Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes, among others, are obvious. But by focusing even more forensically on a single setting and a small group of characters, Sanders creates a vivid portrait of a social group not exactly over-represented in the cinema – Home Counties sixtysomethings, relatively prosperous but vaguely bohemian, realising that they haven’t quite set the world on fire as much as they might have hoped.
They’re very recognisable and recognisably flawed. It’s hard not to feel exasperated at their emotional detachment and occasional smugness but impossible not to feel sympathy when the layers are peeled away and every character realises that for all their attempts to paper over the cracks, the absence of love from a relationship is corrosive and destructive.
The performances are key to a piece such as this, of course, and the actors (most of whom have worked with Sanders before) rise to the occasion, creating believably brittle dialogue from a core story devised by Sanders and Mottram. The exchanges between the passive-aggressive Gilly and Ken, whose default setting of amiable, blokey paternalism transforms into patronising brusqueness whenever he and his wife exchange more than a dozen words, are a particularly fine example of a very English form of verbal warfare.
All of the ‘weren’t they in...’ cast acquit themselves well. The presence of Goody will provoke a Proustian rush for anyone who remembers his ‘aren’t books cool?’ children’s show with Mel Smith in the early 80s, but his performance as the unworldly, shambolic Jim, desperately trying to relive his youth by flirting with Annie (Charlotte Palmer) a recent divorcee nearer to a third than half his age, is a masterclass in pathos and comic timing that makes you wonder why we don’t see more of him.
As the night unfolds, and drama gives way to understated, almost matter-of-fact tragedy it becomes clear that, though Sanders understands his characters well enough to be occasionally infuriated by them, he cares about them deeply. He’s equally adept at creating a vivid atmosphere within his budget constraints, using the lush greens and steely coastal blues of the Kent landscape to reinforce his vision of a world which initially seems like paradise but has coldness and bleakness at its heart.
There are occasional longueurs and occasionally a slightly too decorous Afternoon Theatre feel creeps in. But in general it’s a welcome alternative not just to the Hollywood behemoths but the ‘lovable old trouper’ portrayal of ageing Brits in the likes of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Fans of Leigh, Cassavetes and even the more melancholic areas of Woody Allen’s work should brave the rain for a summer’s evening of insightful, moving character-driven cinema.Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2012