#222 The Last Battle

(1983, Luc Besson)
Le Dernier Combat

Luc Besson is perhaps best known for directing the excellent Leon: The Professional and the not-so-excellent The Fifth Element, but before that, he was making weird French films in the eighties. And here’s one of them: The Last Battle.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the remains of humanity live in ruined buildings in a large desert area, The Last Battle follows an unnamed man (Pierre Jolivet) as he attempts to travel the world in search of a girlfriend. During his travels, he encounters a strange gang, a doctor (Jean Bouise) and a mysterious man known as The Brute (Jean Reno) who wants something the doctor has hidden away.

The most striking thing to note about The Last Battle is that there is no dialogue. In fact, by a complete coincidence, this movie shares a number of similarities with our last movie, Sunrise. They both feature little to no dialogue, are entirely in black and white and no characters have names. However, where Sunrise was a romance movie, The Last Battle isn’t, especially since the opening shot is of our main character having sex with a blow-up doll. Yes, really.

It’s hard to know what to say about The Last Battle. It’s a very odd movie that explains very little, and the lack of dialogue kind of works against it in that respect. We don’t know what caused the world to crumble like it has, or indeed why everyone has turned mute. However, while some of these things can be figured out or theorised about, we never get any explanation for the gang that appear early on, nor do we know why they have a guy kept in an old car boot and sent into tunnels occasionally, and this causes more confusion than intrigue.

Once the main character meets the doctor, things become relatively simple. We don’t need to know the backgrounds of these two characters or Jean Reno, since the story just becomes about the doctor’s attempts to bring back people’s voices (he’s got to the point of being able to splutter out “hello”) and protecting his hospital against Reno. And this is actually intriguing. There are some interesting ideas here.

Visually, the movie is very impressive, and this complements the interesting ideas. The world is fully-realised, and it feels real. It’s also highly stylised and it’s impressive how much work Besson put in to make the world as vivid as he did. The black and white imagery also helps everything feel mysterious and somewhat grimy.

The problem is, the movie feels more like a great concept than a great movie. While the ideas are interesting, the lack of dialogue can feel frustrating, and the structure of the movie feels a little messy. With scenes with the desert gang merely acting as bookends to the doctor storyline, it feels like there are two movies here instead of just one. The fact that they’re set in different places doesn’t help this feeling.

I also found it slightly questionable that the female character who eventually appears is treated as some kind of precious cargo instead of a human being, and who remains trapped in confinement for the entire movie, and ultimately meets a somewhat gruesome end. I don’t know if Besson was trying to create some kind of message here, but the sole woman being a meek prisoner who must be protected didn’t sit well with me.

The Last Battle is interesting, but not exactly amazing. In fact, it just raises questions about why this is a Movie You Must See while Besson’s more well-known Leon apparently isn’t.

Starring Pierre Jolivet, Jean Bouise, Fritz Wepper, Jean Reno & Maurice Lamy
Written by Luc Besson & Pierre Jolivet
Produced by Luc Besson & Pierre Jolivet
Music by Eric Serra
Cinematography by Carlo Varini
Edited by Sophie Schmit

Favourite Scene: The suggestion that the lack of dialogue is a plot point is a pretty good one, and I like the characters’ attempt to cough out the world “hello”
Scene That Bugged Me: Who are that weird desert gang and why do they disappear for much of the movie?

Watch it if: You want to watch an odd apocalyptic movie
Avoid it if: You like to hear people talk

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Posted on October 4, 2013, in 1980s, Action, France, Mystery, Sci Fi and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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