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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.19.14] mockumentary avant-garde

La última película is presented as a "journey into cinematic oblivion", as an egotistical young American filmmaker heads to the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan during the lead up to the 2012 apocalypse in order to make the last movie ever to be shot on celluloid. Knowing nothing else about the film I thought this sounded fun and gave it a chance, but ended up getting more than I bargained for when I encountered what may well be one of the worst films I have ever seen. The press screening was ominously deserted when I arrived, with only four other people attending, and by the end of the film there were only two of us left - and I suspect the other guy may have actually just died.

Directed by Raya Martin and Mark Peranson, the film is a sort of ironic, pseudo-mockumentary, following the deluded and pretentious filmmaker Alex (Alex Ross Perry) and his bewildered guide Gabino (Gabino Rodríguez) as they scout locations for Alex's much touted movie. Together they travel around the Mexican countryside, standing on the famous ruins before going out drinking in bars and nightclubs, as Alex maintains an endless one-sided conversation about the changing nature of the cinematic landscape and the death of film on celluloid. With nods to Dennis Hopper's 'The Last Movie', the film mixes interviews, music video montages, television clips and nouvelle vague style meanderings to create a kind of collage representing the misguided attempts by the protagonist to create an ode to a bygone era, in the moments before an apocalypse which never happened.

While there is no formal structure to proceedings, and it would seem that the dialogue is largely ad-libbed, there are individual moments which stand out as impressive from a visual standpoint. I suppose it would be almost impossible to travel to this part of the world and not capture some of its essential beauty, and here at least the directors manage to get something from the location as our two hapless protagonists wander aimlessly from scene to scene amid natural beauty and astonishing ancient landmarks. By utilizing both digital and 35mm film photography and cutting between them during the film, I suppose the idea is that we are invited to contrast the media. The result though is a tired grindhouse feel, complete with twee 'Missing Reel' title cards which appear during any suggestive scenes, such as a nightclub brawl and a skinny dipping adventure. Two quite random and brief musical montages work very well on their own terms, but seem lifted from another film. These scenes are skilfully edited and able to speak for themselves, while the rest of the film feels patchy and confusing.

The problems with the film are many, but the main issue I had was searching for an answer to the question of how we're supposed to understand its intentions. Towards the end of what feels like - and basically amounts to - an extended behind-the-scenes showreel, we actually see Alex start to make his film, co-opting the talents of Gabino and some girl he meets in a bar. During these scenes a camera and sound crew appear from nowhere to help him, and we witness repeated takes of scenes in which Alex runs into a church and collapses, has his heart cut out by a Mayan priest (Gabino in a poncho and cowboy hat) and addresses his crew directly to thank them for helping him in his quest. I did not really understand the point to this (especially the need to show us every single take!) and by this point felt so unbelievably bored by it all. Finally both Alex and Gabino hold a muted conversation by a campfire where they are burning strips of film; breaking the fourth wall, they discuss how confused they both are by their roles in the real film, confessing that they just don't understand the project at all or why they have been hired by the directors to play these weird parts which make no sense... If there is an interesting idea here, it fails to emerge.

Alex himself is a terribly irritating presence. His shrill voice (Michael Cera on helium), annoying monologues and hipster posturing make him seem like one of the least likable American tourists one could ever hope to encounter. Strutting around like a self-obsessed peacock, his judgmental attitude and pseudo-intellectual ramblings are, I guess, supposed to be amusing, but without a script or any jokes he simply comes across as a humourless prick. During one scene of misplaced comedy Alex is thrown in jail after getting drunk at a nightclub and starts shrieking at Gabino to bail him out; "This isn't funny!" he wails, and he's absolutely correct. I kept waiting for the cannibals from Eli Roth's "Green Inferno" to come along and eat him.

Without any plot or clear purpose a film will suffer; add to this a puffed up mixture of confused meta nonsense, unlikable characters and sentimental ramblings and you've got a film as baffling as it is annoying - and just unremittingly boring. Five years I've been covering this festival, and 'La última película' has just made the top of my list for the worst films I've experience at EIFF.

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