LAST NIGHT ON EARTH (Variety)
Virtuosity and ineptitude jockey for position in "Last Night on Earth," with the former coming out ahead --- just barely. Heavily improvised and shot over a single 18-hour period in Brussels, French-language pic is billed as "a film without limits," but the pretension and lack of discipline displayed show limits can be good. Still, sleek 70-minute debut feature from 25-year-old director, co-writer and actor William August (who has a producing credit under pseudonym Giles Daoust) is fascinating almost in spite of itself. Interest may depend on how effectively marketers can play up this reasonably accessible experiment's considerable spontaneity and daring.
As might be guessed from its title, pic purports to be an account of one man's final 24 hours. Max (Pierre Lekeux) is a middle-aged Belgian who is so mad at the world he buys a gun to commit suicide. Before he does the deed, however, he asks his best (maybe only) friend, Bud (August), to follow him around the streets of Brussels with a digital camera, recording his last day as a sort of embittered testimony by a man who feels let down by society.
Thus, except for a few moments when Bud sets down his camera so that he can enter the frame and talk to his subject, "Last Night on Earth" is lensed entirely from August's perspective. Press notes describe the result as "an almost Dogma movie," and although it breaks some of the rules, it also scrupulously obeys others, particularly its strict reliance on natural lighting. Pic could very accurately be called a Dogma 95 mockumentary, with all the brilliance and incompetence that the term suggests.
First half is essentially an extended rant against God and the human race. At one point, Max's rage boils over and he directs his invective at the camera, even chasing Bud through a park before collapsing in angry exhaustion. Most of the time, however, Bud simply follows Max and watches him confront the people who have allegedly screwed him over.
First on the list is Max's balding tyrant of a boss (Dan Sluijzer), whom Max meets in what may be the film's worst scene, with their confrontation full of mock-fascist dialogue like "You only exist because I allow you to exist."
The camera is rarely an impassive observer in these moments, as August and co-editor Michel Afota deploy all manner of gimmicks --- jump-cutting, cross-cutting, fading to white, even altering the aspect ratio --- anything to jazz up a scene. Effect aims for a sub-Godardian playfulness but ultimately undercuts the helmer's intent, which is to show reality captured on the fly.
In the next confrontation, between Max and his ex-wife, Carla (Muriel Ferrer), a shocking revelation completely alters, perhaps even destroys, what the film previously stood for. Though blatantly melodramatic, twist nonetheless leads to pic's most rewarding passage, during which Max, for once, remains almost completely silent.
Lekeux's performance is remarkably deft throughout, effortlessly holding the camera's attention and subtly turning auds' initial revulsion into sympathy. Pic also benefits enormously from the third-act appearance of Melinda (Caroline Veyt), a kind, wheelchair-bound woman who forces Max to reconsider his decision.
Pic's borderline-laughable dialogue is poorly served by its extremely shoddy subtitles, which contain more errors in spelling and grammar than can be counted in a single viewing.
A Title Films presentation of a Title Films/Bad Fourteen Pics production. Produced by Giles Daoust. Executive producers, Alain Berliner, Serge Peffer.
Directed by William August. Screenplay, August, Daphnis Boelens. Camera (color, DV), August; editors, Michel Afota, August; music, August; sound, Pierre Bachy. Reviewed at Hollywood Film Festival, Oct. 16, 2004. Running time: 70 MIN.
Max ..... Pierre Lekeux
Bud ..... William August
The Boss ..... Dan Sluijzer
Carla ..... Muriel Ferrer
Melinda ..... Caroline Veyt
The Soldier ..... Daphnis Boelens
The Husband..... Stefan Sattler
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