The Last Things: The redemption of the poorest
by Giampietro Balia
- The lives of three individuals are the starting point for Irene Dionisio to paint a bigger picture of a country wallowing in economic and moral debt
After an in-depth study of a pawnshop in her hometown of Turin, Italian director Irene Dionisio realised that, due to privacy and security reasons, she could never shoot a documentary about it – her favourite tool, which she also used to tell the story of the Beckettian characters inhabiting the soon-to-be-demolished Fiat Grandi Motori factory in La Fabbrica è Piena. Nevertheless, she selected three true stories that she came across during her research and began to develop the script for the Italian-Swiss-French co-production The Last Things [+see also:
film profile]. The film is the only Italian feature selected in the International Critics’ Week of the 72nd Venice Film Festival.
A pawnshop in Turin is the pivotal location for the sombre lives of three conflicted individuals who become caught up in a much wider array of stories. Stefano (Fabrizio Falco) is the new appraiser at the pawnbroker, and he is chaperoned by a sly manager (Roberto De Francesco) who purposely undervalues the items and marks the receipts that he hands back to the clients so that the illegal buyers on the outside know whom to ensnare in exchange for a share of the profit. During one of his first days on the job, Stefano meets Sandra (Christina Rosamilia), a transgender person looking to escape her past. She gets no financial or moral support from her mother, so she decides to pawn her fur. After reviewing her ID, which still carries her male identity, the deadpan manager concludes that the document is fake and refuses to loan her money. Outside the pawnbroker’s, a myriad of deceitful buyers put on their daily dog and pony show, using fallacious arguments to convince these people in need to sell them their items. One of these sharks agrees to lend some money to Michele, an honest porter trying to make ends meet. In exchange, Michele has to spot the clients coming out of the pawnshop carrying the marked receipts and lead them to a nearby bar, where the bargaining begins.
The Last Things is a film about economic and moral debt: the private debt of the individuals becomes an existentially ethical issue for the whole of society. Shame is a central aspect of the film: the individuals pawning their valuables feel guilty for being in this position of asking for money, and their only moral redemption is to pay back their debt. Dionisio’s attention to the plight of the poorest members of the community and her use of the documentary form are confirmed by a copy of The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet hanging from the wall of the pawnshop. Falco’s character is probably the most conflicted one: he’s in a rueful plight, torn between following his supervisor’s orders and listening to his conscience. His daily chore is to be an equilibrist treading the fine line that separates what is morally acceptable from what is not. The pawnshop becomes the fourth character, one that swallows the lives of the people who walk in with the same voracious greed used to lock up objects of value in the safe.
Dionisio’s vision was lensed by Caroline Champetier, who already served as DoP for Jacques Doillon, Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard, and more recently won the César Award for her work on Of Gods and Men [+see also:
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile] by Xavier Beauvois. The film was produced by Tempesta in co-production with Amka Films Productions, Ad Vitam and Rai Cinema. The international sales are handled by Paris-based Alma Cinéma.
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