A Family Affair: Brougher Does Some Marital Maneuvering in Piercing and Personal Drama
Chronicling the implosion of a Catskills couple in micro details, Hilary Brougher returns to unhappiness, malaise and restlessness with her fourth feature film. Featuring a robust Talia Balsam, this family affair (Brougher enlists actual household members), offers sharp dialogue, and a strong sense of place which makes South Mountain a mature and memorable essay on marital endpoints and endgame.
Minutes into the feature, Edgar’s (Scott Cohen) secret lover skypes him to live-stream the birth of their new child. It’s an explosive opening to a small but thunderous drama, as our protagonist Lila (Balsam) reacts to this news in shocking fashion. Lila’s initial reaction to the news—which Edgar delivers via telephone—is to break a chair. Further developments amp up the violence–“Poison isn’t violent,” one character offers, “It is on the inside,” Lila responds. Despite these malicious actions, our lead isn’t villainized. A subplot between Lila and a cancer-stricken friend remains underdeveloped, and serves only to act as a sounding board for Lila’s inner monologue. “Nothing compares with cancer,” Lila tells her, though the dissolution of her marriage is treated with much more gravitas. Hers is a house of flying daggers, situated in a lush eden. When tempted by a friendly younger man she succumbs, perhaps to prove to herself she is still desirable. But it is stability, not sex, that Lila yearns for.
Brougher’s husband Ethan Mass’s cinematography relies on the setting’s earth tone browns and rich greens to infuse the look with a maternal, earthy vibe. The house and garden are real and lived-in, which adds a later of authenticity. Even Brougher’s teenage children make an appearance, enhancing the familial feel. The beauty of the mountains and waterfalls mirror Lila’s untamed spirit and Balsam’s blustery performance.
Passions run deep on South Mountain and it’s unsurprising to note this project is such a personal endeavor for the Broughers. Despite the heavy emotional lifting, there is an air of optimism towards the end as the storm-clouds symbolically clear to offer a sense of hope. From the point of view of a city-dweller (Edgar’s lover is a Brooklynite), it’s easy to see life upstate as a tranquil paradise, and easy to forget that people everywhere struggle with inner demons.
Reviewed on March 11th at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival – Narrative Feature Programme. 85 Mins.