Thursday, March 28, 2019

Family history and the Holocaust explored anew in Jeff Lipsky's unusual THE LAST

Jeff Lipsky is back. This storied producer, shown below, who has also directed a number of interesting films -- one of which, Flannel Pajamas, is among TrustMovies' favorites -- loves to push envelopes. And while those envelopes would ostensibly seem to be filled with the usual envelop-pushing subjects such as sexual taboos, the results are films that actually push our ideas about those things, rather than the things themselves. Folk who want more sex and violence will likely feel cheated by Lipsky's movies, while those willing to have some of
their precious notions/beliefs upended in ways surprising but maybe salutary should find the experience bracing and perhaps a lot more than that.

Lipsky's latest, entitled THE LAST, may be one of his best. (I'll have to let it roll around a lot more before coming to any air-tight conclusions.) It is certainly one of his more provocative endeavors, dealing as it does with The Holocaust and the multi-generational history of one particular family in quite an unusual manner. Who these people are, together with how they got that way and what they plan to do about it, once they've learned the truth, makes for quite a movie.

The film begins by a lake with a certain Jewish ritual. The family here is mixed-faith: Jewish on the great-grandparents side downwards, Catholic on the side of the father (Lipsky regular, the fine Reed Birney, above), with dad's daughter (Jill Durso, below, right) about to convert to Judaism as she marries her hot-looking Jewish hubby (A J Cedeno, below, left).

A day at the beach with 92-year-old great-grandma (a most memorable performance by Rebecca Shull, below), during which our elderly non-heroine talks about her past, changes everything for the entire family.

How each member of each generation reacts to this news comprises the meat of the movie, and while the filmmaker, as is his wont, gives us all this via conversations, the dialog is good enough to keep us glued and alternately surprised and off-kilter.

Lipsky forces us, simply via dialog, to imagine, even experience World War II from a different viewpoint that we've heretofore encountered. He allows the leading members of his fine ensemble -- including Julie Fain Lawrence (above, right, as Birney's wife, Melody) -- to have their own scene or two in which they grapple, with intelligence and emotion, with this news.

It's both challenging and oddly diverting to be forced to come to grips with what's exposed here -- which includes everything from religious faith, morality and hypocrisy to genocide, justice, euthanasia (or maybe murder) and what actually constitutes a Jew.

And though the story is told almost exclusively through conversation, which includes a ton of exposition, so well-performed is the film -- especially by Birney, Shull and Lawrence --  that I think you won't mind. The younger generation is perhaps not quite as skilled, but even that makes a certain sense, given the fact that age, coupled to experience, does count for a lot, in performing, as in building character.

The Last is likely to set more than a few teeth on edge. I hope it plays down here in Florida, where audiences are more likely to be subjected to nonsensical feel-good twaddle such as Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel. What a mitzvah it would be to give our audiences something to actually think about that maybe shakes them up a bit.

From Plainview Pictures and running (just a tad long at) 123 minutes, The Last opens in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the newly reopened East 62nd Street and 1st Avenue cinema, the CMX CinéBistro. Over the weeks to come, the film will play other cities across the USA -- it hits Los Angeles on April 26 at Laemmle's Royal and Town Center 5 -- click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.


Anonymous said...

Looks like an interesting film. Does it include the level of sex or nudity from his previous work?

TrustMovies said...

Thanks for commenting, Dani. No, this film does not contain as much sex as, say, Flannel Pajamas or Mad Women. There's no full frontal of men and none, as I recall, of women, though there are a couple of sex scenes. But Lipsky is not as interested here in the hypocrisy, windings and grindings involved in sex and how we manage it as he is in that of the Holocaust and what it means/meant to be a Jew. It's equally strong stuff, however, and quite as taboo-breaking as his other work. Do try to see this one!