Tuesday, 28 March 2017

French Film Festival (7) - Barrie Pattison gets a surprise from LES PREMIERS, LES DERNIERS/THE FIRST, THE LAST

Actor-director Bouli Lanners' Les premiers, les derniers/The First, the Last (France, 2015) is a surprise. I was sitting there thinking where do they expect to find an audience for a film about grubby losers looking for a stolen cell phone in Belgium’s urban Fringe blight - empty highways, abandoned warehouses, isolated farms and hotels - kind of like Eraserhead with Miklos Jansco straight line horizons? 

Then about fifteen minutes in, I realised I was enjoying it more than anything else I’d seen in this event. It’s actually surprising and endearing - and funny.

The grubby, none too bright characters converge. Albert Dupontel, in a personal best, and Lanners (both in Le grand soir) are retained by heavies to retrieve a stolen cell ‘phone and pistol, which turn out to be in the possession of  a marginally responsible pair of kids in road worker gear. The duo encounter Philippe Rebbot as Jesus. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is interrupted by finding a mummified corpse which requires the attention of retired undertaker Max Von Sydow and an orchid growing Michel Lonsdale.

Michel Lonsdale, Max Von Sydow
Lanners’ heart puts him in hospital. Local nasties get sorted out for doing obscene fat man jokes in the seedy bar and Suzanne ClĂ©ment as one of those isolated farm women (La Grande Illusion, The Defiant Ones) that inhabit serious movies, drives off with Dupontel’s keys. Her shot gun is handy for taking out a dying stag. Rebbot, fresh from church and wanting to buy duct tape retail at the warehouse pulls it all together.

There proves to actually be a plot concerning a snuff movie which leads to a shoot out between a couple of gangs of hard men. By the time we get to the ending, with our heroes setting out on a new Odyssey we become actually quite involved with them.

Lanner’s El Dorado also runs to a pet dog and Jesus as characters. He proves to be a unique talent. Lonsdale and Von Sydow just have to breathe heavy to demonstrate what being great actors is all about. The 'scope technical work and the support cast, who have been around without attracting attention before this, are uniformly excellent.

That shot of Rebbot heading towards the three pylons on the hill is a nice companion to the ending of Being There.

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