In “Last Call,” a retired vaudevillian takes a final stab at acquiring some dignity only to unleash all the demons of his past. An imposing lead performance and solid (if a little staid) direction from seasoned Dutch helmer Frans Weisz bring plenty of aplomb to this handsomely produced, intricately constructed backstage drama. National release in March should be bolstered by strong support from local critics following the Rotterdam premiere, while fest screenings should lead to Eurotube bookings and the odd arthouse date.
The degree to which audiences respond to the film will depend partly on their taste for the somewhat unfashionable theatrical setting. But the story here, taken from a 1982 novel by Harry Mulisch, has enough dramatic clout to transcend the constraints of its play-within-a-play-within-a-film structure.
Born into a family of acclaimed stage actors, 78-year-old Willem (Rijk de Gooyer) failed to live up to his forebears, having carved out a career as a second-rate variety star instead. He gets a late-in-life chance to change that with the offer of a challenging role in a highbrow legit production. Play concerns a turn-of-the-century classical thesp who murders his male co-star and lover before hitting the stage to play Prospero in “The Tempest.”
He accepts, and despite more than a ripple of skepticism from fellow cast and crew members, he reveals surprising talents. But his emotional state undergoes major upheaval. At loggerheads with the director, confused by the supportive, flirtatious advances of a young woman in the cast and disturbed at playing an imperious homosexual, he starts succumbing to debilitating memory flashes, conjuring up scenes of his conflicted family and the death of his mother.
While being interviewed for TV, Willem is exposed as having entertained Nazi troops and the Dutch S.S. during the war. An ambiguous bar encounter follows, which gives form to his recollection of a sexual dalliance with a strapping young Aryan soldier, seen in momentary flashes throughout the film. Crippled by his memories, the old actor is overcome during the final dress rehearsal.
De Gooyer carries the film squarely on his shoulders, bringing a noble, tormented air and an occasional touch of humor to his cantankerous but ultimately frail character. Remaining cast members also turn in sound work. Tech contributions are similarly strong, with Robbie Muller’s camera creating a moody look and Theo Nijland’s lush orchestrations establishing a suitably portentous tone.