I don’t normally bring anything directly personal into a review – it’s rarely relevant, but I want to make the point that sometimes a piece of art, whatever form it takes, comes along at the right time to help you make sense of the seemingly nonsensical, and help you through tough times. That’s what Lou McLoughlan’s film 16 Years Till Summer did for me. It’s an amazing piece of work made more special by the circumstances around when I watched it. As the film shows with heartbreaking clarity, sometimes timing is all.
A documentary set in the western Highlands, and filmed over four years, 16 Years Till Summer follows Uisdean who we meet caring for his ageing father. Theirs is a warm yet antagonistic relationship, with the older man raging against the dying of the light, and determined to make sure his son meets his high standards. Then comes the first major reveal when, while eating together, Uisdean says, “The soup you get in jail they can’t put meat in it because of the vegetarians.”
As the nature of the film is to observe rather than interfere, nothing much more is made of this at the time, but as matters move on Uisdean talks about why he was in jail, his heroin addiction, his hopes for his father’s home, and for his own future. The film makes clear that this is his truth, not necessarily the whole truth, but there is little doubt that he sees a future in the Highlands. This is home. It may seem overly romantic, but he makes a direct connection between the beauty of his surroundings and his continued recovery, but this is no fairy tale and harsh reality soon intervenes.
An event causes repercussions for all involved. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I can say that Uisdean goes on to find the promise of happiness in Audrey, a remarkable woman whose faith some will judge as blind, others as inspiring. I’ve watched 16 Years Till Summer three times now, and my view has changed each time. Whatever your thoughts on their relationship, it is like few you have seen on screen before.
Lou McLoughlan’s direction is so subtle that it could be overlooked, but it makes this documentary what it is. There is never a question heard, and those on camera are obviously so comfortable in its company that they never play up to it or make the viewer feel as if they are intruding. It’s an amazing feat to pull off. This is honest storytelling, not sensational in the slightest, and this makes it all the more powerful. You are never forced in a certain direction, and as such you have to make up your own mind as to what you think and confront any judgements you make. Whatever they are, they will say as much about you as anyone on-screen.
There is an unhurried pace to what happens which reminded me of Tokyo Story by Yasujirô Ozu and Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. Both of those films are fiction, but the comparison stands as there are aspects to this film which feel unreal. Not invented, I should hasten to add, but this is drama that only occurs in real life. Any writer would likely deem it irrational or simply unbelievable.
I also have to mention the music, the cinematography, and the sound, which is perhaps an unusual thing to highlight, but which is vital to the film’s overall tone. In the opening sections the gentle noise of water is constant. The lochs and the mountains are characters on their own, in sound as well as sight. The natural world plays a full part in proceedings, and allows a magical sensibility which wouldn’t be the same in an urban setting.
16 Years Till Summer is a film of two parts. It’s a film of four parts, and it’s a film of many parts. It’s a love story, then another love story. It’s a treatise on truth, guilt (and I can only imagine the guilt), responsibility, self-determination, redemption, and faith. And Faith. It’s a reminder that life isn’t a linear narrative of highs and lows where everything will be alright in the end. It’s a series of moments, and we should enjoy the moments which make us happy and try to learn something from those which harm us, or where we cause harm. If you get the chance to watch 16 Years Till Summer then grab it. It’s a film shot through with humanity, and you cannot fail to be affected by it. How you are affected by it, I can’t say, but you can’t ask much more from a film.
Here’s the trailer:
..and this is the audio version of this review: