The Last Family Screen 75 of 8 reviews

The Last Family

2016

The Last Family Poster
  • The director, Jan P. Matuszynski, mixes simulated home-video footage with stealthily virtuosic long-take scenes, including a remarkable one depicting an airplane excursion with Tomasz. The tragedies in this family’s life are nearly constant, but Mr. Matuszynski approaches them with a tone that’s matter-of-fact while also partaking in the particular wry irony that has been a hallmark of Polish cinema since the early 1960s.

  • Matuszyński manages an incredibly difficult task – to portray depression and indifference with the sombre style that captures, but doesn’t judge or acquit. Thus, the fact that The Last Family was announced as the winner of the New Europe – New Names competition is neither surprising, nor undeserved.

  • The film is an intriguing meditation on Sartre’s notion that hell is other people; that our consciousness never really exists in isolation. In focusing less on Zdzisław's painting career and more on his relationship with his son Tomasz, it raises fascinating questions about how inner worlds collide.

  • The performances are, frankly, amazing, as is the photography of the drab housing project, an impressive updating of Kieslowski’s Decalogue: Beksiński’s period painting studio is tucked away in a seemingly normal flat but opens up in breathtakingly otherworldly ways, much like this excellent film.

  • Plunking in one of Tomasz’s destructive physical outbursts just after a warmly paced sequence of Zofia tidying up the apartment seems gratuitous. But the foreboding restraint of the technique, along with the evenhandedness of the narrative attention, makes for an overall gripping combination. The movie sticks in the mind not as a full-on, time-honored biopic but as a queasily warts-and-all peeling back of a family dynamic that happened to involve a figure of cultish renown.

  • Matuszynski avoids the typical pitfalls of the plodding, hagiographic biopic. But instead he succumbs to the temptation to treat mental illness as a kind of freak show, the sort that produces high-wire cinema. It's something to look at, for sure. But the film fails to provide a good reason not to turn away.

  • The screenplay by Robert Bolesto (also responsible for an oddball current festival-circuit favorite, mermaid fantasia The Lure) generally avoids contextual chronological signifiers. So although time-stamps are frequently deployed — sometimes via the domestic video-taping which Beksinski senior avidly adopts in the 1980s — proceedings unfold in a kind of bubble, hermetically and somewhat distractingly isolated from the wider world's turbulence.

  • Any potentially useful object lesson in the difficulties of reenacting history short-circuits into an increasingly sadistic litany of violent scenarios, with the filmmakers lingering over character deaths to maximize the effect of their gruesomeness.

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