“I’m nothing like her.” proclaims Siena (Paige Madison Evans) late in Something You Said Last Night, about her sister Renata (trans actor Carmen Madonia, is a true revelation), who has transitioned. This exchange has a rippling effect, but it is felt in the silence that succeeds the scene. The reaction stops at that. What this little scene establishes in such quick progression is the familiar bonds, the ones that constitute a home, which aren’t as smooth sailing as it seems. This scene is perhaps what constructs the title of this tender, understated drama by first-time Canadian-Italian filmmaker Luis De Filippis.
Beautifully controlled, Something You Said Last Night proclaims the arrival of a singular new talent. Filippis has said that the film is loosely based on her own family, where the themes of familial intimacy and identity are explored with quiet, observational safety. Family comes without a label, it has its own obstinate ways of establishing safety and love. The feelings are never the same. For queer folks, the closest ties of familial bonds are always shifting, reminders of passages of time one would like to forget. What Something You Said Last Night does so well is place its viewers right in that kinetic space within the family, where a young trans girl is trying to question what she really wants- from that space and outside.
Filippis takes us through a week-long journey with the family who are eager to relax during the vacation in Ontario. At the offset, we meet Mona (Ramona Milano) who wryly smirks at her husband Guido (Joe Parro) for not booking a cabin facing the water. Their children, Siena and Renata (comfortably nicknamed “Ren” by her family), tag along. It doesn’t take long for Filippis to establish the dynamic between these characters- swift gestures and domestic scenes set the viewer comfortably within the resort. Filippis positions her film through the eyes of Renata, as we see the shy, reserved twentysomething make her way through the week. What happens is how we perceive it through Renata.
Devoid of cliché exposition and flashy dialogues, Renata is mostly busy with her phone or vaping in her room. Her silences translate into an ennui rarely considered in cinema before, where it is not her trans identity that is always at the forefront, but the desire to be understood and seen as an individual that counts. Financially, Ren has hit rock bottom and she knows that. Either way, she is hiding a secret from her family that will come out eventually. The bonds she shares with her reckless sister Siena is beautifully subtle and rich, where they see each other unable to decide where their lives are headed. Having to rely on their parents, who are nevertheless supporting, is eating both of them slowly. She steals Siena’s hat even though Mona has asked her too. Both take care of each other at the end of the day, evading lecherous local boys and holding up during hangovers.
Far from the reserved energy that her daughters exude, it is Mona who brings the much-needed energy into the scene whenever she arrives. Never to hold her words back, her relationship with her daughter Ren reveals itself with controlled precision. In one sequence Ren sees a group of children teasing a boy for playing with a doll and tries to stop them but Mona steps forward for the rescue. “I was taking care of it,” Ren shouts at her. Mona is so accustomed to having her daughter’s back that she cannot grasp the need for her daughter to fight her own battles. Milano is delightful in the role, and you remember her Mona the most. We all have seen a Mona in our lives.
Like her Sundance award-winning short “For Nonna Anna,” Fillipis pulls out the awkwardness and hope of sharing our lives within the family with subtlety and care. Here is a trans character that simply exists, in all her unspoken anxieties and everyday desires. The trans body offers no curiousty, it is her mind that is curious. No exposition is necessary. Something You Said Last Night is a miracle of a film, so assured and resilient in its tone, one that deservedly won the TIFF Next Wave’s Change Maker Award. Trans ennui has not felt this revelatory on screen before. By the time the vacation comes to an end, us viewers are comfortably seated with them in the back of the car, fully aware that they will always have each other’s back.