Nervy restlessness and the anticipation of doomed innocence shadows the brilliant Too Late to Die Young (Tarde Para Morir Joven), which is set in 1990s Chile.

On paper, it sounds like a reasonably appealing prospect - a bunch of families head up into the forested hills above Santiago de Chile to set up an alternative commune. There they plan to celebrate New Year with a big party, where the alcohol will flow freely.

It's sometime in the early 1990s and it is, of course, the Southern hemisphere, so we are talking an air of summer. The adults are busy setting up things, a water system and electric power lines are installed. Meanwhile, the numerous children that populate the film mess about in the swimming pool that looks like a disused reservoir.

Sadness is never too far. A pet dog runs away, and when found, must be reclaimed through a humiliating, vaguely dispiriting process - money is handed over to a local woman who insists that the dog belongs to her family. The net result is that one young girl is happy again, but another girl, the local woman's daughter, is disappointed at losing her pet. Is it in fact the same dog? We are none the wiser in the end and this sub-plot is of a piece with the listless, undefined air that runs throughout this profoundly subtle film.

What is the film telling us, we find ourselves asking? Is the neo-hippie experiment doomed to fail because the parties within it are not sufficiently adjusted to live the usual, humdrum life most of us lead when we are lucky? It would help greatly too if somebody was not attempting to sabotage the endeavour, blocking up the water pipes and stealing personal belongings.

Too Late to Die Young

Is it the culprit in the actual commune itself or is it a disaffected local who does not want the Santiago folk staying here? A complaint is filed with the local police but nothing comes of it. Once again, listlessness, inconclusiveness.

At the heart of the story is the gangly young woman Sofía, who is played by the hypnotic Demian Hernández, a marvellous actor of immense power. The restless Sofía wants to live with her mother, who lives elsewhere and is feeling alienated from her taciturn father.

Sofía's party piece at the New Year's Eve shindig is her rendition of The Bangles' An Eternal Flame, accompanying herself on the accordion in an intriguing solo arrangement. Meanwhile, there is a gawky teen of about the same age with his sights set on her, but she has fallen for the charms of an older, er, young man who has more swagger.

Everything concerning the commune and its inherent flaws comes to a head on New Year's Eve, but the dramatic resolution is held back on a rein with delicious subtlety. Indeed, the action, for what it is, often does not resemble action at all, just young kids hanging out, drinking, smoking, or playing together in a self-conscious rock band as the New Year is ushered in.

So what is the film telling us? It is a real virtue of the movie that one has to think this so often. You will only come to tentative theories about its raison d'être when you have finished viewing it. See it at the IFI. Recommended.

Paddy Kehoe