The First, The Last: NZIFF Review
If it’s answers you’re after then the slightly surreal Belgian film The First, the Last is not the place to find them.
Two bounty hunters Cochise and Gilou (Albert Dupontel and Bouli Lanners) are given the job of tracking down a cellphone. World weary but determined to take one last job, Gilou has health matters on his mind.
However, their road trip is made worse by the fact those who’ve taken the phone aren’t leaving it switched on to encourage tracking. The young duo, Willy and Esther, believe the world is about to end, and have a mission of their own – but their route is blocked by criminal gangs all after the same thing.
And waters are further muddied by the appearance of a bedraggled wanderer by the name of Jesus…
Enigmatic to a fault, and aesthetically grubby and grimy, The First, The Last is a crime road trip flick that revels in its visuals. Grubby and grimy, this is a world that’s complicated by stormy skies permanently rolling overhead.
In one of the great brooding cinematic shots, Esther and Willy head along a bridge shot from afar, looking like two dots peddling furiously against an inevitable apocalypse. It’s a bravura big screen shot that stands out among the obtuse, dry wry wit that pervades part of it.
Allusions more than answers are forthcoming; in one of the film’s great ambiguities, Jesus is shot clean through the hand (Stigmata anyone?) but director Bouli Lanners prefers to leave the image open to interpretation, infusing the whole thing with an obfuscating sheen that’s both intoxicating and infuriating in equal measures.
Max Von Sydow enlightens proceedings at a funeral, and provides the film's one moment of heartfelt earnestness as he sings as a body's buried. There's plenty of imagery and moments to revel in here as this No country for older men rumbles menacingly on.
Existential chat, a bad guy who resembles Anton Chigurh, end of the world iconography – they’re all here for the interpretation and for a festival experience that’s more about what the audience wish to take away from it, rather than what easy answers present themselves.