The Alliance Française French Film Festival is running in Melbourne from 8th March – 30 March and our writer in Australia will be covering a selection of the movies being shown. AFFFF is the biggest festival of French films outside of France and you can see the program and book tickets here.

Overview: Two aging bounty hunters are tasked with finding a phone stolen by two homeless runaways. Wild Bunch Distribution; 2016; 98 minutes.

Willy Says the World is Ending: The First, the Last looks like a post-apocalyptic movie even though it is set before any apocalypse has occurred. The colours are washed out and dull, and the few settings are all rundown buildings covered in graffiti. The movie takes place in rural Belgium and jumps between only a handful of settings: a house, B&B, hospital, warehouse, bar, and the rest along endless strips of road beneath angry, overcast skies.

The First, the Last is about two pairs of people. Cochise and Gilou are two bounty hunters hired to retrieve a mobile phone that contains some kind of scandalous material while Willy and Esther are two young and in love runaways who have accidentally stolen the phone on their way to visit someone. Willy and Esther’s story is all about their survival and how to get from A to B, stealing food and resources along the way while Cochise and Gilou are simply two old hands trying to do a job while Gilou worries about his age and mortality and Cochise worries about Gilou.

Living isn’t Just Breathing: The other characters in The First, the Last fall into two categories: either local gangsters both pairs have run-ins with or they are characters who make this movie shift from a No Country for Old Men style neo-Western into something that flirts with magical realism. Outside of the main group of characters there are three characters played by Philippe Rebbot, Michael Lonsdale (Drax in Moonraker), and Max von Sydow. Lonsdale plays an elderly B&B owner and Sydow plays a character credited as The Undertaker. Along with Rebbot’s character they seem to represent something more than they are and I found myself thinking that Lonsdale was supposed to represent Time or God, while Sydow was possibly Death. Rebbot’s character was a bit easier to work out considering that he seemed to show up all over the story offering help and advice, and also that his name is Jesus. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but, alongside the meat and potatoes plot line of a missing phone that keeps changing hands, the movie is rife with symbolism.

Overall: The First, the Last has a lot of No Country for Old Men about it (though there is no Chiggurh character), and also a little of In Bruges about the two main characters. It is masterfully filmed by Bouli Lanners (who also wrote it and stars as Gilou) and his DP, Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd. Their use of long shots to show how lost or far the characters are from their destination were gorgeous as they managed to take these huge, empty stretches of road and skies on the brink of breaking into a storm and make it almost look inviting. A single sequence at the start in which Willy and Esther seem to be walking along the disused track for an elevated train or a monorail was amazing as they strolled the track that seemed to extend forever behind and ahead of them. Worth checking out as it sprinkles something new on an established genre and features excellent performances and beautiful photography.

Grade: B+

Featured Image: Wild Bunch Distribution