Something You Said Last Night

Something You Said Last Night captures the ennui of Canadian summers

We spoke with filmmaker Luis De Filippis about casting her debut feature, a film that subverts the clichés of most stories about trans characters and complex family units.

With her debut, Something You Said Last Night, filmmaker Luis De Filippis captures the ennui and longing of a Canadian summer.

Twentysomething sisters Ren (Carmen Madonia) and Siena (Paige Evans) go on vacation with their parents. By all accounts, they’re a happy family; they laugh and sing together. They’re all close but also holding onto dynamics that are perhaps slipping away as the children enter adulthood. Staying at a cabin resort, the activities are mostly for kids and seniors. Siena goes partying all night, while Ren, who is trans, feels increasingly ill at ease in the more conservative beach town. Both girls are also keeping a secret from their blunt though supportive mother. 

The loving chaos of Italian families feels like lightning in a bottle. The performances feel embodied and lived in as their dialogue piles up on each other. The energy is dense with love and nostalgia, catapulted by Mona (Ramona Milano) and Guideo (Joey Parro) as parental figureheads who model the “work hard, play hard” motto. Speaking with De Filippis, it’s surprising to hear that the film was shot in only 19 days, due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19. “It comes down to the old adage, 90% of directing is the casting. When each actor came to the screen, it was almost like a gut reaction, and right from the jump, we put them together. It was very specific. I didn’t want to be general about anything because I think it’s in specificity that you find the universal,” she says. 

De Filippis worked with the actors as much as possible leading up to the shoot. She explains that they went to the resort as a family. “We didn’t really do rehearsal, per se, but we hung out a lot. We talked about the characters. We did therapy sessions. I had them write letters to each other in character and tell one secret only they’d know. Ren and Mona would share something no one else would know about. We also did specific work, like what is Sienna and Guido’s relationship like versus Ren and Guido? We really got nitty and gritty, down to, like, who is each parent’s favourite child?”

Though the film centres on the family unit, we really see the story through the eyes of Ren. She’s recently out of work, almost out of money, and aspires to be a writer. Carmen Madonia had never acted before stepping into the role, but she embodies the character. Madonia worked with her for a year and a half, workshopping the character. They also worked with an acting coach, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, picking a scene and working on it for weeks. That process also helped build Ren’s character. “I could see all these little moments that Carmen offered organically,” says De Filippis. “Like, Ren was never supposed to be a vaper, but Carmen is, and it became this very interesting character tic.”

More than just an actor’s showcase, however, the film’s cinematography captures the haziness of summer. It was shot by Norm Li, one of Canada’s most esteemed cinematographers, who has worked on films like Beyond the Black Rainbow and The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. “First of all,” says De Filippis, “Norm is not just talented but an incredible collaborator. He’s the kind of person you can volley back and forth with until you land on the perfect image. We wanted to establish a very specific language for the film, as if you’re on this vacation with the family but also seeing everything from Ren’s perspective.” 

The camera becomes an important vehicle within the film for translating point of view. “For example,” explains De Filippis, “the camera never moves unless Ren moves. The camera never enters a room before Ren enters a room. We’re always experiencing things with her. We don’t use POV shots, and we’re also confident we don’t have to show everything.” It’s all in the hopes of achieving a “fly on the wall experience,” she says. “It’s not just about what’s on the page, but how you use cinematography, production design, costume and sound to create a world and craft characters who are real, raw and vulnerable.” 

Something You Said Last Night subverts most of the clichés we’ve come to expect from stories about trans characters and complex family units. The film feels grounded in the tensions of the mundane, blending naturalism with a subjective perspective. It’s a rich cinematic experience that finds specific universal feelings and emotions. ■

For more on Something You Said Last Night, please click here.

Something You Said Last Night (directed by Luis De Filippis)

This article was originally published in the July issue of Cult MTL.

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