“We live and die by the stories we tell each other,” is the line that begins writer/director Jonathan Nossiter’s latest piece, the exquisite “Last Words.”
Adapted from a novel by Santiago Amigorena (he also co-wrote the screenplay), Nossiter’s film follows Kal (newcomer Kalipha Touray), the last human on the face of the Earth. The year is 2085. One year earlier he was traveling with his pregnant sister through what is left of Paris, until she was murdered by a pack of children who know no better, raised in a world of death.
Traveling on his own, Kal seeks connection and in Bologna, he finds an old man who goes by the name of “Shakespeare” (Nick Nolte). He lives as a hermit amongst an old film archive, hes’ the keeper of the films, “I came here to dream the beauty of films before I died.”
As the two lost men watch films, the human contact brings them both a connection that has been long missing from their current lives. In this new world, there is no more human connection. Together, they set out to Athens in search of survivors.
Shakespeare in this sequence gives Nolte some of his best moments in a long time. His character shares with Kal a bit of his own tragedy-filled backstory. Nolte’s grizzled appearance and gravel-road voice work perfectly for the role. From his first scenes, the acting legend is incredibly affecting. In a distant way, his character exists in much of the same manner as Philippe Noiret’s “Alfredo” in “Cinema Paradiso.” The two use the power of film to tell the story of life; to remember. Nolte’s performance will likely stay with you.
Soon after they arrive in Athens, they do indeed find others, a small commune of people trying to rebuild and survive as best they can.
The community is populated by souls touched by tragedy. Stellan Skarsgård plays the main character who is guiding them all to make Earth livable again and work towards some semblance of society, which humans have lost since the world began to die.
Charlotte Rampling, Maryam d’Abo, and Alba Rohrwacher lend support as members of the commune, with Rohrwacher responsible for one of the film’s most heart-rending scenes.
Kal and Shakespeare share with the community the healing power of film. Nossiter finds magic in these moments, films from “Sullivan’s Travels” to “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” bring a reprieve from the death that surrounds these people. Fleeting as it may be, they are happy—for the first time in forever.
Clarissa Cappellani’s cinematography is bleak and beautiful. She shoots her landscapes as a reminder of the world’s majesty. Even as the earth is dying, it’s still an enchanting vision. Cappellani’s contribution helps to bring about the importance of taking in life around us and the urgency of caring for this beautiful yet unforgiving planet.
The filmmaker gets a lot of weight out of the emotion of the piece for quite a while. It is only in the final act where he begins to repeat himself too often and loses a portion of the emotional power built by much of the running time. But this does not hurt Nossiter’s unique and profound work.
While his messages may be a bit simplistic in their presentation from time to time, Nossiter’s screenplay is solid. There are many moments that should move the viewer, the film’s intent should speak to us all.
“When you live only waiting for death, it clears your mind of bullshit.” These words are spoken by Stellan Skarsgård’s character upon first meeting Kal and Shakespeare and point to the film’s leitmotif. Even expecting the inevitable, the character still tries to make the toxic ground able to grow something sustainable to keep everyone alive. When there is human spirit in a harmful world, life has a chance.
“Last Words” informs its audience of some hard truths: without human connection, we fade into nothing and no matter what we do in our lives, one day death comes. Nossiter is asking us to take better care of ourselves and Mother Earth.
Be it film or pictures or the written word, take stock of life and the world around you. Remember. Connect. Through the eyes of others, we shall live for eternity.