Families. Just saying the word provokes a multitude of reactions—anything from irritation to contentment. Truth be told there’s often a mix of both. It’s that particular dynamic that Luis De Filippis so magically conjures in Something You Said Last Night. What’s refreshing about this debut feature is the director’s lightness of touch and her masterful ability to avoid all the clichés that mar so many other filmic interpretations.
In this modern take on the family vacation, Ren (TIFF Rising Star Carmen Madonia) is a twenty-something aspiring writer, guilted into joining the family vacation to the cottage. She and her sister, Sienna (Paige Evans), dutifully climb in the car and then sulk while their joyful parents, Mona (Ramona Milano) and Guido (Joey Parro) blast Italian pop songs and insist on a family sing-along. Actually, that’s just the mother. The mostly silent but jovial father happily obliges. Mona, the nostalgic but passive-aggressive type of Mom, is the glue that binds them all together and the dynamite that quickly blows them apart.
A family vacation is rarely simple though, is it? Personalities clash and there’s always at least one unspoken secret. The love and immense frustration are palpable throughout the film and their every interaction pulses with tension and threatens to bubble over with intensity. Which, of course, it does. In the ebb and flow of it all, each conflict is met with a deeply intimate kind of love—a familial bond that often goes unbroken.
To her credit, De Fillipis manages all of this with the skillful control of a more seasoned filmmaker. Her direction elevates her film above common family stereotypes with a gentle, lyrical visual style, and grounds it in a realism that’s tinged with poetry.
Something You Said Last Night is also a modern tale of self discovery. As De Fillipis recreates the sights and sounds of a sun-drenched retreat with gentle ease, there’s another wonderful aspect to the film: the satisfaction of following a trans character who is not being traumatized.
Carmen Madonia is an absolute marvel as Ren. This character is a young person who is striving to figure out her path in life, a wannabe writer who struggles to pay the rent and to be independent of her well-meaning but cloying mother. It may be a familiar scenario but Something You Said Last Night is executed in such a sensitive and gratifying manner as to make the experience unique.
Something You Said Last Night screens as part of TIFF 2022, which runs from September 8 to 18. Head here for more from the festival.