Ala Eddine Slim’s The Last of Us is the type of film that’s inevitably described as “spare,” “rigorous,” and “conceptually bold.” Unfolding over a distended 94 minutes, without a single word of dialogue, the film follows two (unnamed) immigrants attempting to cross from northern Africa into Europe. Along the way, one of the two men is captured, hauled off and never seen again; the other continues on. After stealing a motorboat boat, which subsequently breaks down, the remaining man finds himself stranded in an island forest, at which point the film begins to shift into a more mystical, magical-realist mode. There’s an inherent political (and social) interest built into Slim’s chosen subject, which is enhanced by both his background in documentary filmmaking and Amine Messadi’s appealing (often low-light) cinematography.
But owing to the film’s (over-)liberal use of negative space — both formal and conceptual — The Last of Us fails to resonate beyond the theoretical, remaining strictly, and frustratingly, skeletal. Slim’s strenuous symbolism overwhelms any human specificity: There’s some appealing detail in the margins, particularly when the documentary interest of his subject comes to the fore, but the overall experience is akin to watching someone laboriously draw obscure symbols on a page for ninety minutes. However gorgeous or necessary those symbols may be, there’s nothing interesting about their presentation. The final shot suggests transcendence, of a sort: the man (or Man) returns to his primordial roots. But suggestion is as far as the film goes; the image disappears from view and then—like the film as a whole—promptly evaporates from memory.
Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2017 | Dispatch 2.