Louise Bagnall’s Late Afternoon is a tender story that follows an elderly woman as she drifts through her memories, existing between the past and the present state. Although the premise itself doesn’t necessarily seem Oscar worthy, Late Afternoon is a perfectly well-crafted story that touches on all the right notes.
In this notoriously competitive industry, so many contemporary short films try incredibly hard to convey deep philosophical messages through innumerous layers of metaphors and consequently, undermine the importance of a well-structured and clear story. Not Late Afternoon. Louise’s film is exactly what it sets out to be: a simple story that is strikingly emotional without unnecessary and overcomplicated plot-lines.
The film relies heavily (perhaps too much) on the concept of suspending disbelief, especially when it invites the audience into Emily’s memories. Frankly, who embarks on a life-changing journey when their half-eaten biscuit falls into their cup of tea? It’s asking the audience for too much isn’t it? But if you are patient enough, you will embark on the most amazing journey, all thanks to a half-eaten biscuit.
Kate and Emily are extraordinarily pure characters, whose relationship is captured brilliantly. They are both presented as flawless people, which might sometimes come across as one-dimensional, but their rich back story (ever so slightly) prevents that from being the case. Instead, the audience is presented with fresh, loveable and outrightly nice people who they can easily form a connection with.
Although the characters of Late Afternoon are very touching (without even trying), it could be argued that the real success of the film lies in its cinematography. The style of animation presents a very authentic use of watercolour techniques that underscore the dreamy feel of the story. Touching on borderline experimental visuals, the exquisite use of colours is well thought of and effective. The Production Design team headed by Áine McGuinness deliberately associated specific colours to different moments in the characters’ lives. The start of the film uses mostly primary colours, which become more complicated as Emily hits her teenage years, where purple is introduced. McGuinness has stated that in order to represent the different settings (present day, Emily’s memories, and her subconscious) they had come up with something that would make them distinct from one another but still cohesive to the film as a whole, and the main way they achieved this was through the “looseness of the lines and the use of the colour palette.” These little details are what sets aside the professionals from the mediocre.
When Emily drifts into her memories, there is an overwhelming sense of lightness created from the open spaces and abstract flow of moments. McGuinness has said that the real challenge was “creating imagery that immediately reads for the viewers as the place where a person’s mind goes when they are lost in thought.” In these particular instances in the film, there are almost no lines or visual details, genuine giving off the impression of what someone’s subconscious would look like in Emily’s situation.
Following on the same line as the cinematography, the sound design by composer and musician Calm Mac Con Iomaire also reflects the film’s incredibly gentle characters and their story. Although the little dialogue there is seems a bit unrealistic, the sound score is astonishingly delicate and elegant, immersing the audience into the charming world of the Emily’s bittersweet memories.
Special attention should be brought to little details placed in very particular moments in the film. The scene where Emily writes her name playfully on the sand and the waves of the ocean carelessly wash them away is utterly beautiful and carries a much deeper metaphorical connotation than a quick first glance would suggest.
All these elements help shape and convey the overarching universal theme of the story; the strong familial bond that withstands the test of time. Even though the treatment of a person with dementia is a heavy and often dark subject to deal with, the film portrays it in a bright light, giving it its due attention and never undermining its seriousness. The film’s sensible treatment of this disease has allowed for more viewers to open up about their own experiences and even thank the director for such a truthful portrayal. Louise has stated that having people open up to her has felt like winning a prize in and of itself.
Late Afternoon has been screened in over 80 festivals around the world and has won the prize for Best Animated Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. This recognition, apart from serving as an indicator for the success of the film, also serves to show how much Cartoon Saloon studios and other Irish animation studios, such as Brown Bag, have accomplished in the last few years. Louise has stated that “the Irish animation boom has been amazing”, and although the country is relatively small in terms of its size and population, its government has been incredibly supportive in helping the industry grow.