By Fergus Kane (he/him)
This review is a part of our Glasgow Film Festival review series. The Film Festival is running between 01/03/23-12/03/23, don’t miss out and go and see some incredible new films.
Drenched in the languid heat of a long summer, Something You Said Last Night, which is having its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, is full of words left unsaid. After the success of her acclaimed short-film For Nonna Anna in 2017, director Luis De Filippis returns with this lo-fi tale of a family holiday which seems unremarkable on the surface. The Canadian-Italian clan fight, eat, drink, sunbathe, and make up; it’s in the seemingly insignificant details of this trip that the film’s themes of family and late coming-of-age delicately come to light.
The film’s narrative is anchored around Ren (a transfixing Carmen Madonia), a 25 year-old trans woman who has aspirations of becoming a writer. However, she has lost her job and is yet to share this news with her parents. Caught in a semi-depressive state of uncertain flux, due to her recent job loss and being forced to face the demoralising prospect of moving back in with her parents, Ren appears directionless and somewhat emotionally stunted. She craves romantic intimacy, but struggles in her pursuit to find it.
Director De Filippis, who is trans herself, when asked to describe Ren explained that “she’s a sister, she’s a daughter, she’s a granddaughter first…and she’s trans second”. A poignant reminder of how rarely we see trans narratives which don’t revolve around gender identity. Ren is long past the stage of transitioning and her family loves her – it’s everything else in her life that she’s unsure about.
Through the earthy tones of Norm Li’s immersive cinematography, we see Ren and her family struggle to navigate shifting dynamics. She and her younger sister Sienna (Paige Evans) jostle for independence from their vain mother (the excellent Ramona Milano) and reserved father (Joe Parro), all the while running from adult responsibility.
Adhering strictly to the principles of show not tell, the film communicates its ideas through lived-in performances and storytelling which is sophisticatedly understated. A brilliant sequence where Ren takes a child’s doll draws parallels to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, through its meditation on lost youth and feminine expectation. Alongside this, the film’s central motif is that of duality. The claustrophobia of the family car is juxtaposed with the vastness and solitude of the sea, a symbol of Ren’s internal conflict between containment and escape, childhood and adulthood.
While there are bigger moments – like the tense scene where Ren reveals to her mother that Sienna has decided to drop out of college – the film tends to avoid over-the-top emotional peaks. While this lends it a comfortable realism, it’s also perhaps its main weakness. At times, Ren’s emotions appear slightly too opaque to fully invest in her. We are also deprived of a few key details which could help with this: what is she like outside of the family unit? Why was she fired?
Still though, Something You Said Last Night remains a refreshing and genuinely affecting portrait of a minor quarter life crisis. A truly sensory experience, its small revelations will leave you quietly touched.