Director Philippe Collin has taken his title’s arid-sounding concept — an imagined view of the famed German philosopher’s twilight stretch — and fashioned a droll, perfectly tuned miniature with “The Last Days of Immanuel Kant.” While appeal is a bit specialized for wider distribution, heavy fest bookings are assured, with Euro TV sales a potential market.
Based on an 1850s essay by Thomas De Quincey, pic chronicles short period in life of the professor/thinker in his native Konigsberg, leading up to his 1804 demise at age 80. Focus is less on tenets of his “critical philosophy” (referenced in conversational fragments) than on his fussy, eccentric lifestyle.
Positively addicted to a strictly observed, somewhat bizarre daily regimen, Kant comes across here as the classic academic crackpot-genius — one who sleeps in an elaborate mummy-wrap, drinks massive quantities of coffee at precise intervals, and holds the entire town at an awed if politely amused distance during his afternoon strolls. In this minutely detailed canvas, the departure of Kant’s servant Lampe after 30 years’ service amounts to high melodrama.
Such extreme economy of narrative and tone could easily grow dull. But helmer Collin allows no slack, endowing spare scenario with much sly humor as well as eventual poignancy. A spectral, sustained beyond-this-mortal-coil shot hits the ideal closing note.
English-born U.S. actor David Warrilow limns a Kant who’s crotchety and severe yet childlike, especially as infirmity weakens his mental and physical faculties. Roland Amstutz’s long-suffering Lampe leads a restrained supporting cast. Period trappings are appropriately subdued. Luminous b&w photography is a big plus among modest but assured tech credits. A former assistant director to Renoir, Rohmer, Malle and others, Collin has worked mostly on French TV docs and series; pic is just his third feature, and first since 1979.