Late September, and the discreet excellence of film-maker Jon Sanders
The discreet excellence of film-maker Jon Sanders is one of contemporary cinema’s best-kept secrets. But when his new film ‘Late September’ premieres at the ICA and the Bristol Watershed this month, that secret may finally come out. Like all Sanders’s work, it’s driven by a powerful subterranean emotional charge, but remarkably understated: only towards the end do you realise that it packs a Chekhovian punch.
A little history is required. Sanders has had a long and distinguished career in the film business, and his first big success came in 2000 with ‘Painted Angels’, a Western set in a brothel in 19th century Canada where Kelly McGillis, Brenda Fricker, and Sanders’s partner and co-writer Anna Mottram starred. Made on a modest budget of £1.5 million, it became an art-house hit. But it did not attract the conventional finance needed for Sanders’s next film – an intimate family drama – so he and Mottram decided to make that with friends in Kent for virtually nothing. ‘Low Tide’ was filmed in four and a half days, contained just 37 shots, cost £2000, and triumphantly premiered at the Curzon Soho in 2008. ‘Late September’, also set in Kent, cost £10,000 and was shot in six days: following Sanders’s now-established practice, the dialogue was entirely improvised on set.
Yet this drama – focused on a 65th birthday party – is both tightly-wrought and perfectly shaped: Sanders and Mottram spring their surprises with a cruel, regretful deliberation. We encounter the sort of tragedies which build up slowly beneath the surface of everyday life, as bereavement, disappointment, failure, and loss take their toll: the dialogue doesn’t have the heightened emphasis of Mike Leigh’s, but Sanders’s long-breathed scenes compel in their own particular way, and the acting has unfaltering truthfulness. As in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’, the camera stays very still and the imagery is exquisite; Douglas Finch’s piano score weaves the scenes together with delicate restraint; the whole thing has the glow and patina of a classic.Tagged in: Anna Mottram, Bristol Watershed, Chekhov, contemporary cinema, film, Jon Sanders, Late September
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter