‘Last Words’ Review: Cinema After the End of the World

‘Last Words’ Review: Cinema After the End of the World

Movies|‘Last Words’ Review: Cinema After the End of the World

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/16/movies/last-words-review.html

In this post-apocalyptic drama, a young man meets the grizzled last guardian of a cinematic archive, played by Nick Nolte.

Credit…Gravitas Ventures

Last Words
Directed by Jonathan Nossiter
Drama, Sci-Fi
2h 6m

This new film directed by Jonathan Nossiter, adapted by Nossiter from a novel by Santiago Amigorena, begins, in Sun Ra’s phrase, after the end of the world. Addressing the camera directly, a young man named Kal (played by Kalipha Touray in his feature debut), informs us that it’s 2086, and that he has a story to tell “about the end of humanity.” But he soon despairs: “I have nothing to say.”

He goes on anyway. An ecological disaster, during which much of Europe is engulfed by water, has stranded Kal’s unschooled generation. He wanders the ruins of Paris alongside his pregnant sister. They come upon reels of celluloid film, their origin the Cineteca di Bologna. Inspired, Kal goes on a pilgrimage.

In Bologna, he finds a grizzled character — played by Nick Nolte, a past master in this department — who’s protecting a film archive and maintaining a bicycle-and-hand-crank-operated projector. (In this world, electrical outlets are a thing of the past.) After getting to know each other — the two men make a batch of 35-millimeter film together, a process we are walked through the less wonky steps of — the duo heads to Athens seeking other survivors of the apocalypse.

They find characters there. Some are sagelike, some are withdrawn; they’re played by the likes of Stellan Skarsgard and Charlotte Rampling, both regulars in Nossiter’s short filmography.

Kal and Nolte’s character show movies to a dwindling population among ancient ruins. This makes for some evocative imagery, as do some films that Kal makes with that new stock. Call the arrangement “Cinema Purgatorio.” The movie’s depiction of age — specifically, age as it affects movie stars — has real potency. This extends beyond its ostensible message, delivered by Kal: “We live and die by the stories we tell each other.” The stronger statement “Last Words” ends up making is that we die no matter what.

Last Words

Not rated. In English, Mandinka and French, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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