The Last Land: Life after death
by Martin Kudláč
- Pablo Lamar uses the formal aspects of slow cinema to craft a contemplative cinematic experience focusing on an elderly couple facing death
In his impressionistic feature debut, The Last Land [+see also:
film profile], screening at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, Paraguayan-born, Argentinian-educated emerging filmmaker Pablo Lamar has made the most of his experience as a sound engineer. While cutting his teeth on short films (I Hear You Scream, 2008; Noche adentro, 2010) and embarking on the six-year odyssey that led to his first feature, Lamar worked as a sound engineer on various film projects. “I could really express myself working as a sound designer,” Lamar explains, adding that he is fascinated by sound “and by making dialogue with images”.
The Last Land, a cinematic venture into the solitude of an elderly couple, devoid of dialogue, was written, directed and produced by Lamar; he also took care of the sound design with the help of skilled Dutch recordist Jan Schermer, thus enhancing the viewing experience with transcendental touches and lending it a ceremonious dimension. “The sound gives you the possibility to push the images into another space – a soundspace – and I have always loved having one foot in the image and another outside the frame, with the off-screen sound bringing a different quality and pointing towards the abstract,” Lamar reveals as he discusses the lack of dialogue and the fact that sound is the primary way of forging the solemn atmosphere, in addition to its role as a narrative device, externalising the unspoken.
In a carefully paced sequence of images, the director follows an elderly couple (the entire cast consists of two experienced actors, Vera Valdez and Ramon Del Rio) while the man takes care of his wife both before and after her last breath. The minimalism of the film stems from the decision to focus on only two characters, a small house and a restrained, slow-burning act resting on the protagonist’s shoulders. It all unspools in the vein of ora et labora asceticism, which pervades the whole film, accentuated by rigorous formal aspects. The overall minimalism, long takes and observational style originate in the realms of slow cinema aesthetics, a stylistic palette the director uses to forge the ruminative narrative and immerse us in reflection. He thus acknowledges the formative presence of Lisandro Alonso’s and Carlos Reygadas’ works, alongside more invisible references to the masters of cinema Andrei Tarkovsky, Alexander Sokurov and Carl Theodor Dreyer.
The man carries out the last rites for his wife, albeit not exactly according to religious conventions, but in a very intimate, personal and intensive manner. He clearly bears the burden of a strong bond that has been severed, and the contemplation of life and death in progress is channelled through the main character as an all-encapsulating theme. The mystery of what life is, as seen from the post-mortem point of view, echoes themes present in Lamar’s previous works. This initial topic in The Last Land is a personal fascination of the director’s, which he examines through sparse, albeit thoughtfully composed, images and absorbing ambient sounds. The whole affair unfolds in a lush forest, beyond society’s reach and away from its customs, and thus the basic setup comprising man, death and nature elevates the film and the viewing experience itself to the point of contemplation and primal spirituality.
Every single gesture bears a resemblance to a ritual, culminating in a kind of liturgy in the church of nature and a very human way of grasping the stupendous enigma of life and death. “Personally, for me this film is meant to be a ritual – in general, watching films is a ritual,” and Lamar’s intention here is to create an immersive viewing experience.
The Last Land was produced by Fortuna Films, Sapukai Cine and Cinestación, as a four-country co-production between Paraguay, the Netherlands, Chile and Qatar. It received backing from the Doha Film Institute, the Hubert Bals Fund Plus, the 2012 Cannes Atelier and the Paraguayan National Fund for Culture and the Arts.