A pleasing aura of expectation and mystery permeates “The Last Day,” an assured follow-up from “This Is My Body” scripter-helmer Rodolphe Marconi. Story of few words and striking visuals starts with a young man deliberately smashing his head through a plate-glass window, then rewinds to the week in late December leading up to that moment. Good performances from handsome thesps help make the tale always watchable, however sordid the underpinnings. Well-reviewed on November release, but barely making a dent at wickets, pic would sit well in offshore line-ups of contempo French cinema.
Eighteen-year-old art student Simon (Gaspard Ulliel) boards a night train in Paris to spend the Christmas holidays at his family’s house on an island off the coast of La Rochelle. He arrives with lovely 17-year-old Louise (Melanie Laurent) in tow. The audience knows they only met on the train, but Simon’s adoring mom, Marie (Nicole Garcia), ornery father (Christophe Malavoy) and downright adversarial older sister, Alice (Alysson Paradis, sister of singer-thesp Vanessa), assume they’re sweethearts.
This is just the first of a series of enigmatic developments full of longing, guilt and other staples of the art-film arsenal. But Marconi knows how to layer his visuals to serve up a twisted family history that’s about to come to a
head, even though it could have remained buried forever.
Some lensing is so intimate that it makes viewers feel they’re in the same rooms and subject to the same ambient tension, and there’s a male masturbation scene of disconcerting power and poignance. Marconi also has a knack for selecting evocative French and English-language songs that enhance the proceedings, including a surreal line dance with beer bottles by the patrons of a cafe.