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SXSW: South Mountain

Relationships are messy. They’re not these uniform experience with clear beginnings, middles and ends. When you invest your emotions into another person and that partnerships ends, it’s not a clean break. Especially when children are involved. 

Director Hilary Brougher’s South Mountain is a beautiful, quiet film about a couple’s break-up and its repercussions. It stays true to the messy nature of family dynamics. It follows the story of Lila (Talia Balsam), an artist living in the Catskills with her husband Edgar (Scott Cohen) and their children. Lila has a lot on her plate. Her best friend Gigi (Andrus Nichols) is battling breast cancer, her adoptive daughter Sam (Macaulee Cassaday) is about to go on her first big adventure as a young adult and her husband Edgar just had a baby with his girlfriend Gemma (Isis Masoud) and is leaving the family. She has a brief affair with her daughter’s friend Jonah (Michael Oberholttzer) and tries to poison Edgar but rescues him just in time. As Lila’s world falls apart, can she put the pieces back together and find some semblance of happiness again?

At the world premiere of South Mountain at SXSW, Brougher spoke at length about the inspiration behind the film and what she hopes audiences will take away from the story. 

“This is definitely a piece of fiction. It’s not all auto-biographical. It’s made from a lot of scraps from a lot of people’s lives that I’ve known very closely. It’s made out of the stuff that is my life. We did that for practical reasons. It was what I hoped would be a way to give the audience something of value… All I have is my particular view of the world.”

Director Hilary Brougher

“For me the film is about sadness but it is not a sad film. The film is about “to be continued.” The film is about how we stay connected when we fall apart… Everyone will bring their own emotions to this film in their own experience. I’m sure my own experience is colored by getting to connect with all these people and having it be a very healing experience.”

Director Hilary Brougher

“I was involved in a project that destroyed me creatively. Even in making this film about why people stick around when things are bad, I was getting healed. For me there is great beauty and joy and transcendence in it but I understand that people are going to access it from wherever they are. I hope they feel the love. I hope it heals more than it hurts.”

Director Hilary Brougher

South Mountain is gorgeously shot and directed and there is a unique beauty in the subtlety of the performances. Everyone goes through their own kind of pain and I love how this is portrayed by the different characters. By the end of the film I did feel I needed the story explained to me so I was grateful for the director Q&A although a second viewing would have expanded my understanding.

In one memorable scene, the family is enjoying an outdoor barbecue while Edgar is inside watching his girlfriend give birth to his child via FaceTime. It looked so realistic I asked myself “did they really use a pregnant woman and film a live birth?” When actress Isis Masoud spoke before the SXSW audience she confirmed this to be true. The iPhone sequence is footage of her child’s birth spliced in with scenes she filmed at 8 months pregnant. Amazing!

South Mountain had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Narrative Feature Competition.

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