Overview: Emile, a qualified pilot and aviation fanatic, looks for work as a pilot while trudging through a life of economic troubles and regret. Productiehuis Bananaz; Not Rated; 2014; 22 Minutes.

“Unfinished Business”: When avid birdwatchers engage in their hobby, they must imagine themselves in the position of the bird, flying high above the confines of mundanity that surround them. Ever since Emile Jansen was a child, he has watched planes fly above the green of the Netherlands with a sense of awe and wonder equaled by nothing else. His dreams have always lain in the clouds. Unfortunately, the dreams came at a cost he and his family could not afford. Emile’s pain in life is palpable. Through interviews that range from tearful and solemn to exciting and hopeful, we are infected with Emile’s clear enthusiasm for flying and planes, while remaining grounded in his more depressing reality. His sister, director Suzanne Jansen, documents his struggle with reality and faith in the open, blue, and uncertain future.

Fate Gone Wrong: Jansen, being the subject’s sister, clearly has a very personal connection to the material here. Under different, less connected hands, the documentary could have easily been a lazy montage of plane footage and pretty cloud-filled skies. Luckily, that is not the case. Jansen cares enough about what she is filming that it all comes across as genuine and touching. There is one emotionally raw exchange between Jansen and her brother that on paper sounds corny and manipulative. Using her deft skills as a documentarian, Jansen portrays nothing but moments of real feeling. The scene is one that causes the audience not to roll their eyes, but to fight back tears of their own. When she shoots her father talking excitedly about the interest in flight he shares with his son, you feel the time and care put into it all. The emotions and ideas at play here have clearly been percolating in Jansen’s mind for years. With her film, they all come pouring out in a controlled, beautiful, and wonderfully interesting manner.

Connection: Had The Last Hour in the Sun been a feature-length documentary, the material could have quickly grown tiresome and repetitive. By keeping it to a brief 22 minutes, Jansen is able to craft a personal and informative story that resonates without becoming boring. While not many have been through the same ordeal Emile is currently undergoing, everyone has had their dreams crushed (or at least put on hold) before. This is not just a documentary for those interested in aviation, it is for those interested in dreams and how they manifest themselves over one’s lifetime. I certainly do not have aspirations of becoming a commercial pilot. And yet, watching Emile and his father talk about flying, I myself had a sort of giddy excitement in the prospect of controlling a machine of the such they were talking of. Iron birds and hearts full of anticipation fill this film, and it is all the better for it.

Overall: With The Last Hour in the Sun, up-and-coming filmmaker Suzanne Jansen creates a touching and intriguing portrayal of perseverance, familial love, and determination. It may not do anything truly revolutionary, but it is an impressive and effective doc as a whole.

Grade: B+

 

This film and countless others will be screening at the 18th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham, North Carolina from April 9-12. Tickets are available online.