Home Video Hovel- Last Love, by Tyler Smith
Sandra Nettelbeck’s Last Love is a triumph of beauty and tone. The cinematography is breathtaking, with each shot lingering on the characters as they quietly make their way through life. In this, the film depicts loneliness, grief, and sadness in a way that words never could. And, indeed, if it were a wordless film, Last Love would be an astounding exercise in visualized emotion.
Unfortunately, once the specifics of the story unfold, the film begins its descent into mediocrity. We’ve actually seen this story before, in much better films. An older man with nothing left to live for finds solace in a young woman whose charm reinvigorates him. It’s a very familiar tale, and Last Love makes no real attempt to breathe new life into it. Instead, it is content to let the actors do the heavy lifting, to middling effect.
Both Michael Caine and Clemence Poesy try their best with this material, but even they have played similar roles in better films. As a widowed man living in Paris, Caine is quiet, sad, and a little cynical. All told, it’s very similar to the character he played ten years ago in The Quiet American, in a performance that allowed him to explore the nuances and contradictions of a character hard to pin down and even harder to sympathize with. Here, the character is a little fuzzy, but not due to emotional complexity, but unfocused writing. We know that he feels lost and alone, but we’re not totally sure why he latches on to this young woman, in whom he seems to have no real romantic interest. At least in Roger Michell’s Venus, we were allowed an obvious physical attraction that the older man had for the younger woman, instantly making the film more engrossing and unsettling.
As the object of Caine’s platonic affection is Clemence Poesy, who played a similar role in Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges. She seems to specialize in playing the emotional muse that can bring hopeless men out of their despair, and it’s clear to see why. Poesy is very attractive, and has an effortless charm on screen. She is playful, but with a depth of character behind her often sad eyes. However, though we get a strong sense of her character as well, it is not completely clear as to why she chooses to spend time with this old man. There is no physical attraction, nor is there some kind of financial agenda. It’s possible that she recognizes his pain and loneliness and takes pity on him. However, pity can take a person only so far, and it feels like there should be a scene addressing exactly what else she gets out of this relationship.
But, then, that is what Last Love banks on; we are meant to simply accept this friendship as a sort of celebration of kindred spirits coming together, as we did in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Unfortunately, the script lends no support and, in fact, often gets everything backwards. The characters over-explain things when a mere knowing look would have sufficed, and in scenes where an explanation would be most helpful, the film falls silent. I’m not opposed to filling in some of the blanks myself, but this film requires that I go searching for most of the major character motivations; were the film attempting something innovative, the search would be worth it. Sadly, it is not.
That isn’t to say that the film is not wholly without merit. Just as I am about to dismiss the story, cinematographer Michael Bertl crafts a shot that is so gorgeous, it seems to welcome the audience into it. We want to live in the peaceful, quiet world these characters inhabit. In taking the everyday world and making it as beautiful as it can be, Bertl does more to tell the story of a man with a new lease on life than the script comes anywhere close to approaching.
So, in the end, Last Love is a fairly unmemorable film; overly familiar, but ultimately harmless. We know what will happen, as we’ve seen it better portrayed in other films. But there’s a certain comfort in that familiarity, made all the more pleasurable by the lovely photography and meditative pacing. As a story, it may fall short, but as an emotional experience, it is quite satisfying.