Movie Review: A Dark German Dream of Debates and Morality — “The Last City”

Veteran German documentarian Heinz Emigolz’s “The Last City” is an interlocking series of conversations with actor/characters taking us from Israel and Serbia to Greece, China and Brazil in a quintet of vignettes that seem to have only the loosest connections.

It’s an experiment in narrative, with far-ranging conversations the take in old age, dream interpretation, revisiting one’s personal history by meeting a younger version of oneself, national/racial guilt and morality. The film’s all-one-big-family/all0one-city messaging doesn’t quite come off. And at times, it seems like the sort of movie you get from a series of grant-financed vacations in which you drag actors along.

The acting is varying degrees of stiff, the line readings arch and stilted as not everyone speaks English as a first language, although it’s the language Emigholz (“Streetscapes”) chose to film in. Still, it is unusual enough to be worth a look.

A former filmmaker/now-archaeologist (John Erdman) has a long, philosophical talk with a former psychologist (Jonathan Perel) who might have been his psychologist but is now an Israeli weapons theorist/designer across several archeological digs and street corners in Israel.

“A war can’t be fought within the realm of design” is this conversation’s thesis, near as I can make out. And the psychologist’s rationale for changing careers is “At one point, listening became not enough for me.”

The one-time filmmaker turns nostalgic as he next has an intimate chat with someone meant to be his younger self (played by Young Sun Han).

“That was beautiful, like that scene in a film by (Carl) Dreyer” is all the younger man needs to say to get the older one on the same page. The viewer? Even when we’re told the film in question, it’s seriously unclear as to how that connects them to the 30 year-old man or his 70ish counterpart.

Then the young man is seen wrestling naked with a fellow (Laurean Wagner) who turns out to be a cop, and his brother. That’s OK, the cop can confess to a priest. That’s what his brother happens to be.

“My lover’s my brother.”

Good thing Mom (Dorothy Ko) isn’t flipped out by what’s going on under her roof. She has her own agenda, a lengthy catalog of evidence of Japanese society-wide racism and WWII era sadism that she relates to a woman (Susanne Sachße) whose taped “slanted” eyes and jet-black bowl-cut wig and German accent don’t fool us, but somehow convince the incest brothers’ mother that she’s lecturing someone Japanese. No harm, no foul, right?

“Are we Japanese not the Germans of the Pacific?”

The Chinese woman’s shaming of the disguised German has a goal, an end game in mind, and you can probably guess what that might be.

That segment is by far the most coherent and focused of the various conversations, which are augmented with a car crash, a gruesome dream visualized in ’80s video game graphics and whatever it is the Chinese woman wants the unrepentant, unreformed Japanese to consider as the only “honorable” thing they could do as penance.

Emigholz wrote a lot of words for his actors to say, without getting that close to a clarity of message. Documentarians often go for “natural” under-rehearsed performances when they make the leap to fiction features, and that’s evident here. Many a line-reading sounds metallic, not so much “acted” as read.

Still, you’re not likely to have seen many films that take this approach to “story” and grasp for messages this obvious and yet obscure.

The settings are often striking as “The Last City” never lets you forget you’re dabbling in the avant garde, so it’s got that going for it.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sexual situations, profanity

Cast: John Erdman, Dorothy Ko, Susanne Sachße, Jonathan Perel, Young Sun Han, Laurean Wagner.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Heinz Emigholz. A Film Movement+ release.

Running time: 1:40

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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