Les Premiers, les Derniers (The First, the Last)
Screened in the Panorama section of the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, writer, director and star Bouli Lanners’ The First, The Last offers an uncommon film, a sort of American gothic thriller set in France that centres on religious themes, stylistically something like No Country for Old Men as if directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Set in the countryside of France, two middle-aged bounty hunters, Cochise (Albert Dupontel) and Gilou (Lanners), go in search of a stolen mobile phone. Meanwhile, the people in possession of the phone, Willy (David Murgia) and Esther (Aurore Broutin), are wandering in search of a child before, as they believe, the world comes to an end. Intersecting these two narratives, Cochise and Willy, unconnected at this time, both manage to cross the path of a local criminal gang.
The manner in which the film attempts to hybridise certain themes and genres is certainly interesting, but it remains strongest when the more traditional mystery/thriller elements are allowed space to develop. Much of the narrative is composed of vague, enigmatic dialogue sporadically exposing the reasons the characters are undergoing their various plots, which succeeds in building intrigue but, unfortunately, the detours into suggestions of a mystical apocalypse and indulgences in religious allegory suck out some of the interest that develops for the characters, leaving the concluding scenes lightweight and detracting from any emotional impact.
While the narrative does become problematic, the direction is near faultless. Creating an atmosphere deeply ominous and unnerving through use of tempo and cinematography, both of which place a focus on drawn-out silences and long distance photography, the dulled and grey colour palette succeeds in underscoring the films tonality, and the use of location further infuses the atmosphere with a sense of impending catastrophe.
Although imperfect, Lanners’ highly stylistic direction makes up for many of the narrative weaknesses. Sadly, though, The First, the Last is unlikely to be a film that remains in the mind for too long after the light of the projector fades.
Les premiers, Les derniers does not yet have an official UK release date.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about the Berlin Film Festival 2016 visit here.
Watch the French language trailer for Les Premiers, Les Derniers here: