On a humid June afternoon in the Catskill Mountains, Lila realises that her family is quietly falling apart. Talia Balsam gives a beautifully nuanced performance in Hilary Brougher’s South Mountain, coming soon to VOD/DVD.
Lila’s (Talia Balsam) life is changing. Her daughters are growing up, becoming young adults, having their own adventures. Her best friend is ill. Her husband is not going to be her husband for much longer. Over a period of a few months at her home in the Catskill Mountains, Lila tries to find a way of re-drawing her life amid the challenges around her.
This is not a story of a tempestuous break-up told with huge arguments and histrionic scenes. Lila and her husband Edgar (Scott Cohen) know their marriage is over. They calmly work out who’s going to pay the mortgage, who’s going to live where, how to tell the children. They know they still care for each other, but they won’t be living together anymore. While there may be blame to be apportioned, they know it’s not worth doing it because it won’t change anything. Everyone is being reasonable.
That’s not to say there aren’t tensions, and this is very much Lila’s story as we watch her come to terms with her new life. The camera spends a hefty amount of time on Lila’s face, watching her work her life out, being resilient, feeling hurt. Talia Balsam’s performance is note-perfect and, in the same way Lila anchors her dispersed family members, Balsam is the steady rock at the centre of this cast. So many films show the family returning home from their adventures to find mom cooking in the kitchen. South Mountain allows us to see what mom is doing and feeling while they’re all away.
What we’re watching is something which happens to people all the time; director Hilary Brougher’s success is that it is never boring, and we never give up caring. Shot on a miniscule budget with friends and family helping out as crew (the house in which most of the story takes place is Brougher’s mother’s own property), South Mountain tells an honest and believable story of a middle-aged woman facing up to the challenges ordinary life pitches and suggests that amid the heartbreak, there is light at the end of the tunnel.