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USA 2005
Directed by
Gus Van Sant
92 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
1.5 stars

Last Days

Synopsis: The last days of  aSeattle-set rock & roll musician (Michael Pitt) whose life and career is reminiscent of that of Kurt Cobain.

This film seems to have polarised critics with some describing it as a haunting poetic ode to the loneliness of death. I however am in the other camp that found it a programmatically challenging but ultimately a tedious cinematic experience. Sure, it's an existential experience to accompany a guy on his every aimless moment: camping out and bellowing Home on the Range into the night sky; dressing in a little black frock and cruising his house with a shotgun; attempting to make himself a pot of macaroni cheese; slumping against the door semi-comatose, and so on ad nauseum. Add to this the smattering of characters who interrelate with Blake - a Yellow Pages salesman who spins a boring sales pitch, a pair of Mormons who sum up the situation and split; a woman who could be his mother asking about his daughter and pleading with him to come away with her; and a voice on the other end of the phone asking whether Blake is going to do the tour or not. Blake's only response to all this is either silence or incoherent mutterings.

The almost total lack of plot and back-story goes beyond observational aethetics and belongs more to an aesthetics of boredom. Yes, we're witnessing Blake's disintegration first hand and unmediated, and therefore Van Sant might claim that the torpor we are forced to endure is a function of his fidelity to his subject, not the outcome of his treatment of it, but for me, it's just not good cinema. Last Days, as much as it might trade on the myth of Cobain's demise, is not cinema verité but Van Sant's fictional re-construction of it. The camera often tracks Blake from behind, much in the way it tracked the young killers in Elephant, but that previous Van Sant film which went to some trouble to establish its characters was a far superior effort to this. The other characters were for me totally meaningless - Asia Argento plays one of the woman and hangers-on who shares Blake's house, and who, when Blake dies, splits the scene with callous disregard, now that there is nothing to be gained from the situation. The role of others we fleetingly see was totally unclear to me. Only if we are prepared to consider the film, along with Elephant and Gerry, within the context of an "existential" trilogy about death, does the film acquire some measure of validity but even in this respect it is the least rewarding of the three.

Pitt certainly gives a credible interpretation of the absolute removal of his character from the real world, but we need more than this. Only at one moment does he actually engage with what his life had been, namely music, when he goes into a frenzy of drumming.

At times the cinematography impresses, much as it did with Van Sant's previous film, Gerry - especially the shots of the autumn woods and natural landscape, all with a life and verdancy in sharp contrast to this man who is like the walking dead but this small concession is not sufficient to warrant the viewer's persistence. This may be cutting edge experimental cinema and some may say it's a masterpiece, but I'd rather be able to relate to what I'm watching.

 

 

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