TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG
First show: June 28
“An intimate, human-focused film with broad allegorical potential.”
–Little White Lies
During the summer of 1990 in Chile, a small group of families lives in an isolated community right below the Andes, building a new world away from the urban excesses, with the emerging freedom that followed the recent end of the dictatorship. In this time of change and reckoning,16-year-old Sofía and Lucas, and 10-year-old Clara, neighbors in this dry land, struggle with parents, first loves, and fears, as they prepare a big party for New Year’s Eve. They may live far from the dangers of the city, but not from those of nature.
Directed by Dominga Sotomayor. 2018. Chile. 110 min. Spanish with English Subtitles.
A conversation with TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG writer-director Dominga Sotomayor and editor Catalina Marin
by Jonathan Marlow
I first met writer-director Dominga Sotomayor when LA ISLA, a short she co-wrote and co-directed, won the 2014 Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival. I later screened the film at the Telluride Film Festival (as a surrogate shorts programmer for Barry Jenkins), and then crossed paths with her again when her film MAR premiered in Berlin.
Not unlike LA ISLA or her first feature, THURSDAY TILL SUNDAY, Sotomayor’s extraordinary new film TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG has a certain autobiographical element that enriches every aspect of the tale — borrowing elements of a personal past to create something universally true.
What follows is a rambling lunchtime conversation with Sotomayor and editor Catalina Marin on the occasion of TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG opening in New York earlier this spring.
Marlow: Where are you arriving from?
Sotomayor: From Japan! I was in Japan two weeks ago. I was impressed with the silence of the city. All of the cars are electric. In the restaurants, everyone is talking quietly. I said to myself, “This is my favorite country in the world.”
Marlow: It has been a long journey from Locarno until now.
Sotomayor: I cannot complain! I am very happy with the festivals and the theatrical release, but I am also exhausted with talking about the film. I find that I am repeating myself too much. It is okay, though. It is great that Catalina will be here for the New York opening as well.
Marin: Moral support.
Marlow: As the editor of TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, you also worked with Dominga on her earlier films.
Marin: We were university classmates. We’ve been working together for more than ten years.
Marlow: Reviewers tend to dwell on your personal connections to the stories of TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, but also THURSDAY TILL SUNDAY.
Sotomayor: I have a personal relationship with everything that I do…I like to say “personal” rather than “autobiographical” because “autobiographical” is too literal. It is more that I am using some personal elements. People will ask me, “Who are you in the film?” I am probably all of them. But it is not my life, like specific discussions with one of the characters. Broadly, TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG is a closer look at a long period of short-term teachers that are part of the same timeline. It is like a long timeline where I am going into fragments.
Marlow: Does this tend to make the Q&As very personal, since audiences are continually asking you to make personal connections to your work?
Sotomayor: The most autobiographical thing I would say is that the place inspires the film. There is a lot of fiction that grows strong there! The most autobiographical thing has to do with this experience of living twenty years in the community that inspired the film. It is not exactly as it appears in the film, but it has many of the elements that are portrayed in the film. As you know, I arrived there when I was four in the year 1989. It was a very incipient community with merely five houses. It was summer. We were inhabiting the place while everybody was building their houses. There wasn’t electricity, and so on. I ended up living there for twenty years. I saw all of the transformation of this place until now. My mother still lives there. The connection with this place—these trees that I climbed, this river, this stone, the memories of also being able to feel the seasons—when you’re in the city, you don’t feel the seasons as much as in a place like this. I remember the winter when it was raining. The day after it rains, when it will be sunny, my father would take me to the mountain, walking from the house. You could see the snow. In the summer, we were all gathering together in a swimming pool.
Marlow: How far from Santiago was this community?
Sotomayor: It is not far at all.
Marlow: Is it essentially a suburb of Santiago? Does it still seem somewhat remote?
Sotomayor: No, because the city grew up. It used to feel more isolated. Now it is in the middle of a neighborhood in Santiago. It still has some dirt roads.
Marlow: What is the process for your collaboration in editing Dominga’s work? Are you involved in it all of the way through, or do you only see the footage after she has finished shooting?
Marin: I went to the last two days of the film shoot. Normally, I avoid it. This time I was very busy with the cultural center [Centro de Cine y Creación, a nonprofit Santiago event space due to open next year] and editing another film. I managed to have someone who helped me. In this case, it was Dominga’s brother!
Marlow: You were able to get him to log some footage?
Marin: Logging and synchronizing. In many cases, directors love that the editor edits at the same time as they’re shooting, in case they have any comment. It usually happens to me that I don’t find anything important in that process. In the case of TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, there was one shot which I asked for that I thought it was important. The truth is that I wasn’t able to edit very much during the shooting. I try not to go to the set.
Sotomayor: I don’t like it. I don’t like this craziness of editing while you are shooting.
Marin: It is better when you finish, or you still need a little bit of a rest after the shooting. There was only this one shot of Sofia during the lunch that was important to me. I try to avoid the shooting because I get disoriented.
Marin: To know the houses or to understand the angles. I think you understand the house but then you… Actually, the film itself is very disorienting, so it is very important to not have those literal references.
Sotomayor: It is very fake, all of the geography. The geography of the place is like two different places. One corner is not in the same street that it seems to be in the film. I think it was good for Catalina to not know where.
Marin: Then we edit very closely together.
Marlow: What is the duration of the editing process? Would you say that it went fairly quickly? How much are you shooting relative to what ends up on the screen?
Marin: She doesn’t shoot much.
Marlow: That is what I figured.
Marin: For me, it is easy to work with Dominga because she has it all very clear. Sometimes it is a problem that she doesn’t shoot much because you may need something to cover something else. Not often. Working together, I feel we are very close. It is as if I know what she likes and where we are heading. She has it very clear. Sometimes, it is like we try things, but she knows exactly what she does not want. It is easier in comparison with a lot of directors with whom I’ve worked.
Sotomayor: It was interesting in the process, Catalina was proposing, “Let’s forget about the script. Let’s look into the material.” Even though there was a well-developed script, we tried to be open to the material. We were working very closely every day, watching the material. I’ll be forgetting a little bit the script. Even though, after all, I think the material was ultimately driving us toward the script. The film ended-up being very close to the script. But I like the process.
Marin: We’re guessing, but I think that if we had filmed the script perfectly, as-written, we would have been too slavishly dedicated to the script and we would’ve missed things. This trip connected more accurately with the script than perhaps if we’d just have followed it to the letter.
Marlow: With this film, the casting is rather crucial.
Sotomayor: I am very obsessed with acting! In the sound-design, each time that there is one volume, I replace it with another. We also mute a few things that we don’t need to hear.
Marin: Or create new dialogue.
Sotomayor: It was interesting. Something that came out in the editing was, for example, the relationship between Clara and Lucas. Clara is looking at him. She likes him. It was a little bit in the script, but I think we pushed farther the attraction of Clara with Lucas in the editing.
Marin: Yes, I think it is more like admiration.
Sotomayor: Yes, but it wasn’t that clear.
Marin: There were these romantic tensions amongst many characters in the cast. This was perhaps less subtle than in the other films, yet still kept the language of the earlier films, I guess.
Sotomayor: It is also capturing a time of a shooting.
Marlow: There are two separate layers of time.
Sotomayor: Even with TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, it was just two years ago. Now, the kids seem so big! With THURSDAY TILL SUNDAY, the girl is now in university! Even the route…
Marin: The highway…
Sotomayor: The highway has changed because now they’ve doubled the number of lanes. The place where they leave the food for the homeless guy doesn’t exist anymore. The house doesn’t exist anymore.
Marlow: The film is a type of visual archaeology. It becomes the only way to see things as they were and, many times, as they’ll never be again.
Sotomayor: With professional actors or with adults, they do not change that often. But with the oldest kids, even during the theatrical opening in Chile, I realized, “You’re so tall!”
Sotomayor: It feels like a time capsule of these kids.
Marlow: It is a fleeting moment. Once it’s gone….
You know Jonathan Marlow from Los Angeles-based film restoration/distribution outfit Arbelos, and Petaluma-centric Paracme, the presenting organization of Camera Obscura, at whose Fourth Annual Report TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG was the closing-night film last November.
TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG: Upcoming Showtimes