Evoking such introspective ensemble pieces as Woody Allen’s theatre-influenced September and, to some extent, the Danish family cacophony that was Festen, Jon Sanders’ latest film focuses on the intricate relationships and emotions shared amongst a group of people over the space of twenty-four hours. Featuring a group of theatre-trained actors and no hint of a screenplay (the dialogue is completely improvised), Late September is a tender, quietly affecting drama about the complexities of marriage and the transience of humanity, set during a seemingly civilized birthday party.
The film plays out like a typical Mike Leigh scenario, albeit a paler version, and it is somewhat inescapable to draw conclusions with the great auteur’s style; the technique of building performances through vague whiffs of narrative structure is all too similar, as are the tragedy-induced themes, though this is rarely to the detriment of the film. What Sanders does which is so engaging here is he uses the dense, occasionally claustrophobic setting of the echoey house, in which the film is set, to his advantage, staggering the in-depth analysis of the chequered marriage between Ken (Richard Vanstone) and Gillian, expertly played by Anna Mottram, so that each lingering, unobtrusive scene flows with an unhurried naturalism.
It is true that some sequences go on for slightly longer than they probably should, and a few of the characters are seen but rarely focused upon, particularly the underused son who drifts in and out, but these are mere quibbles to a cherished and delicately handled piece of low-budget filmmaking.