Here’s a demonstration of how it’s perfectly possible to create an enthralling and resonant drama on a microscopic budget, provided your cast and crew are sufficiently talented and dedicated. Late September, directed by Jon Sanders, is a small-scale piece taking place over the birthday weekend of 65 year old Ken, played by Richard Vanstone. Ken and his wife of 30 years Gillian (Anna Mottram) have invited a few guests over to their delightful old house (the film doesn’t specify the location, but it feels pretty rural and we get to see a lake), but it seems that it’s not going to be enough to save their failing marriage – Gillian is uptight, needy and controlling and constantly provoking the rage of her otherwise docile and avuncular husband. All the party guests seem to have brought their own issues to the gathering as well, and unresolved resentments are constantly threatening to derail the celebrations. A particular catalyst for stirring up raw emotions is Ken’s old friend Jim (a brilliant turn by Bob Goody), whose insouciant charm masks deep wells of discontent.
The subject matter, setting and improvised dialogue of Late September immediately bring to mind the films of Mike Leigh, but the comparison is maybe not as snug as it may appear on the surface. Leigh’s films are not short on raw moments of revelation and venting of repressed emotion but there’s usually something there to keep you slightly at arm’s length, whether it’s the slightly cartoonish and exaggerated characters that sometimes crop up or the music cues that remind you that you’re watching a carefully assembled entertainment. Sanders simply didn’t have the money available to apply any emoliating varnish to his film (one estimate I’ve seen of the budget for this film is £15,000, which would barely pay for Tom Cruise’s bottled water on your average blockbuster), and it’s all the better for it: it’s shot in what looks like untreated digital video, with a minimum of cutting and distracting camera moves and this suits the character’s various emotional states just fine. I should also say that despite the general permeating air of melancholy the film does contain several highly amusing moments (it’s a comedy of manners as much as it’s anything) and one really very beautiful sequence involving a puppeteer and a pianist. Well worth seeking out.