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September Says Film Review: Eerie Family Drama

Twi girls stand wearing colorful dresses and holding lanterns in a field at dusk in the film September Says

Written and directed by Ariane Labed, September Says is a charming and impressive directorial debut from a promising filmmaker.

Director: Ariane Labed
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 98′
Cannes Premiere: May 22, 2024

Ariane Labed’s September Says was immediately one of the films I was most interested in before going to Cannes, thanks to its fascinating premise and intriguing setting, and to its being a promising debut from a first-time director.

It premiered at the 77th Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2024, as part of the Un Certain Regard section, known to celebrate and spotlight movies with non-traditional stories and unusual narrative styles. Coincidentally, it also happened to be the first film I saw once in Cannes, making for a promising start to the festival, if not an excellent one.

Based on Daisy Johnson’s novel “Sisters,” September Says tells the story of two sisters, September (Pascale Kann) and July (Mia Tharia). The two are incredibly close, despite having very different personalities: July is more curious about the world compared to her sister, who is very protective of July and distrustful of the world outside them. When September is suspended from school, July has to fend for herself and starts exploring her own independence. This eventually leads to tension between the two sisters, which later explodes when they go on holiday in Ireland with their mother Sheela (Rakhee Thakrar).

Much of September Says relies on the two main characters: the titular September and her sister July. Pascale Kann and Mia Tharia are both excellent in their respective roles. With their strong leading performances, they elevate the film, making us understand every nuance and complexity of their characters, as well as the way they change and grow as the film goes on. The bond between the two sisters is the heart of the whole film and Labed showcases it in every single detail of the movie, from the choice of shots to the costumes and production design.

From the very beginning of September Says, it is immediately clear that the film is not afraid to sit with its silence, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. The rare music that we hear in the movie is always diegetic. The fact that there is not much music in this film makes it even more impactful when we do hear it in some of the scenes. Similarly, Labed does not fill every silent or empty moment with dialogue, letting other elements of the story speak for themselves, which becomes particularly fascinating in the last act of the movie when everything finally comes together.

Two girls lie on the floor underneath a glass table in the film September Says
September Says (Sackville Film & TV Productions, Element Pictures / Cannes Film Festival)

Despite its fascinating premise, the first half of September Says feels incredibly slow, to the point that I started wondering where the film was actually going with its narrative. However, it turned around in the third act, when it made me question everything I had seen up until then. In this sense, September Says is a movie that works best the least you know about it before going into it: this way, it can truly surprise you once the twist does, finally, come around. The final part of the film is undoubtedly the best one, with a narrative that feels increasingly more urgent in its pacing and that only truly unfolds in the last few shots.

There are many impressive elements in September Says, especially with the acting that particularly stands out and the attention to detail in every aspect of filmmaking, but I do wish the film was paced out a little better. Although the final act is nearly flawless and particularly interesting, the same can’t be said for the rest of the movie. Nonetheless, September Says is a very exciting and fascinating movie, especially as a debut from a filmmaker that I hope we can see much more of in the near future.

September Says premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2024 in the Un Certain Regard section.

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