A Film About A Film At The End Of The World
The title of Mark Peranson and Raya Martin's La última película means "the last movie" in Spanish, which is also the title of the 1971 Dennis Hopper film that Peranson and Martin are riffing on with their playful sort-of-mock-documentary. Hopper's fragmented, much-lambasted film was about a stunt coordinator in Peru who helps a group of aboriginals make a movie. Última película trades Peru for Mexico as it tracks Alex (Alex Ross Perry) on a trip to the Yucatan in Mexico where he is planning to shoot a movie that will use the world's last remaining rolls of film stock. His trip comes at the same time as the predicted 2012 Mayan apocalypse, tidily connecting the end of cinema as we once knew it to the end of the world.
Última película functions, then, as a piece of alternate history while ostensibly documenting the making of Alex's film. It's shot in a documentary style, featuring interviews with Alex about his process and following him and his guide Gabino (Gabino Rodriguez) as they tour Mayan ruins and begin to make plans for the movie. But Martin, a Filipino filmmaker with a number of features under his belt, and Peranson, directing his second feature and best established as a critic and editor of Cinema Scope (which, full disclosure, I have written for), don't take long to complicate matters substantially.
Última película is being screened in 35mm when it opens in New York, but it was shot in a wide range of formats, from 16mm to HD and on an iPhone. These are presented to us in shifting aspect ratios, which become another tool that Peranson and Martin use to destabilize our sense of reality and our notion of what the film is about.
Early in the film, Gabino introduces Alex to his friend Iazua (Iazua Larios), another director who is filming a documentary about René Redzepi, the real-life famed Danish chef. Redzepi is coming to the Yucatan to help prepare a large dinner for the end of the world. Redzepi really did participate in such a meal in 2012, and when we see Iazua's documentary, narrated in Spanish, it looks like a low quality news documentary about the meal, one that could have existed apart from última película. Partway into Iazua's interview with Redzepi, though, the shot shifts from what looks like crude video to crisp digital, the format in which Peranson and Martin have filmed much of the rest of the movie, including their interviews with Alex. With the shift in format, Iazua's doc becomes entirely incorporated into Peranson and Martin's film.
The film repeatedly trips you up like that, creating different layers of reality and then forcing the question of which one we're presently in. The film is a documentary about Alex's movie, but at times, when you see a boom operator in the shot, it can seem like a documentary about that documentary ... about the movie. On a wider level, it's also a documentary about the Yucatan and the Mayan Apocalypse. But, of course, because it's all these things, it's hardly a documentary at all, certainly not in any traditional sense.
That can make the movie sounds like conceptual drudgery, a critical exercise with little to say beyond that it's unclassifiable. That, I imagine, is how Alex's última película would have turned out as if he had really made it. (His pompous musings, some of which are lifted from interviews Hopper gave for a documentary about The Last Film called The American Dreamer, include vague talk of "film as an act of destruction" and pronouncements that people watching his film will see something "more spiritual and more mystical than the medium has ever produced.")
In the hands of Peranson and Martin, though, the film avoids empty intellectualization or self-importance. In fact, it's the way that the film separates itself from Alex—even as, ultimately, his project and última película blend into each other—that is the movie's finest touch.
When Alex visits Chichen Itza on December 21 st, he gives disdainful looks to the group of American hippies who have gathered there to celebrate the coming apocalypse. "I don't want these white Americans with dreadlocks... anywhere near the film," he says, adding that his work will display all the authenticity that they lack. "I want them to see the film and feel embarrassed."
Peranson and Martin, however, train their camera on these revelers sincerely. Like the movie's digression about the end-of-the-world dinner or another scene set at a museum of Mayan artifacts, this section on the apocalyptic festivities helps push the film beyond the boundaries of mock-documentary and proves that its interests run wider than the end of cinema. Because of these moments, última película becomes a movie about finality, about the ways we stand in awe of end-times even as they strike fear in us, about how some ends, like the collapse of a civilization, can nevertheless give way to an extended life through surviving art and architecture.
Última películathankfully doesn't take the notion of an "end" too seriously either. (That said, its own ending wouldn't have been hurt by some trimming.) Alex may see his film as some sort of actual last statement or last movie ("one movie can change the world," he says) but his arrogance is a joke. And Perry, here embodying a character quite similar to the lead in his film Listen Up, Philip, and playing him perfectly straight, makes Alex laughable.
Peranson and Martin also display a healthy amount of self-deprecation about their attempts to blur the boundaries of truth and fiction, to create a rag-tag whole from what, on the face of it, seems like a hodgepodge of parts. "This whole movie for me doesn't make sense at all," says Gabino at the end, noting that if Alex wanted to make a film about the Yucatan and Mayan culture, maybe he should interview some government officials and "people with influence." Of course, such conventionality was never at risk with última película, which eschews normal practice from the start. Hearing the suggestion, though, strikes a perfectly lighthearted tone and reminds us to be grateful for a movie that's so altogether different.
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