×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Last to See Them’

A rigorously well-made but undernourished drama that follows an unsuspecting rural Italian family on the day a horrible crime will occur.

Director:
Sara Summa
With:
Barbara Verrastro, Pasquale Lioi, Canio Lancellotti, Donatella Viola, Mauro De Felice, Michela Imperatore, Samantha Lioi, Massimiliano Bossa, Antonio Martino, Rocco Martino. (Italian dialogue)

1 hour 19 minutes

Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” stretches long as a late-evening shadow over Italian director Sara Summa’s feature debut “The Last to See Them.” The Italian title, “Gli Ultimi Viderli Vivere” which translates literally to “The Last to See Them Alive,” is also the heading of the opening chapter of Capote’s book. The setting is, similarly, a remote farmhouse whose four occupants — father, mother, daughter, son — will soon suffer a grisly fate. Even the book’s contested designation as a “nonfiction novel” has inescapable parallels: Summa’s film is also based on a real event, but the extent of its truthfulness is difficult to gauge.

This is largely due to the wilful austerity of the director’s coolly premeditated approach. An opening title baldly reveals that one day in 2012, four members of the Durati family were murdered — an event we soon begin to suspect we will not see — and then, armed only with this scant foreknowledge, we watch these unsuspecting victims go about their ordinary business, in the drowsy Southern Italian sunshine with the picturesque countryside rolling all around them, on the last day of their lives.

The family patriarch, Renzo (Canio Lancellotti) starts his day sorting through some papers in his makeshift office. Mother Alice (Donatella Viola) is prone to headaches and when not lying in a darkened room, wanders listlessly around the house. Young son Matteo (Pasquale Lioi) is hand-finishing an ornate wooden box intended as a wedding present for the family’s eldest daughter, who is never seen. It’s teenage daughter Dora (Barbara Verrastro) who has the busiest agenda and who, very loosely, is the focus of the film’s studiously disinterested gaze. She helps a neighbor’s kid make a cake, she fields phone calls and later a visit from her boyfriend, and throughout the day she is occupied with making bridesmaid’s dresses and running other errands for her sister’s imminent nuptials. We are only fleetingly reminded of the family’s onrushing doom by slightly leaden interstitial impressions: hands on a steering wheel, headlights sweeping along a deserted country road; a faceless malevolence getting implacably closer with the unexplained, inexorable purpose of Death itself.

If it all sounds a little like a film-school final project, there’s a reason for that. “The Last to See Them” is produced by DFFB, the German film school of which Summa is a graduate, and as a portfolio piece it is impressive. Katharina Schelling’s photography is pleasantly restrained, shot with a digital graininess that mutes down the palette so that bright skies look pale, and sunshine feels harsh rather than cheerful. And certain scenes are repeated from different perspectives in the edit (which is credited to Summa with additional thanks to filmmaker Valeska Grisebach), which seems to be an attempt to comment on the slipperiness of cinematic time, and to muddle the film’s otherwise relentlessly linear nature.

But none of the repetitions actually give us any more information than we had before, so their effect is ultimately deadening. And, coupled with the slightly self-consciousness performances from the film’s non-professional cast, which seems to be very aware it is walking in the footsteps of the dead, much of “The Last to See Them” feels less like dramatization than reconstruction — less drama than diorama — yet it remains unclear just why these mundane actions warrant such minute recreation.

Without any sense of the killer’s motivation (the oncoming disaster might as well be a comet strike), nor any suggestion of what the family might have done to bring this catastrophe upon itself, Summa’s anti-thriller occupies an oddly sterile, intellectualized realm. The avoidance of sensationalism is laudable given its basis on a real event, but soon that very bloodlessness starts to grate, and to feel less like respect than a squeamish repression of cinema’s visceral, emotive, expressive power. In this regrettable way, “The Last to See Them” does escape the legacy of “In Cold Blood”: Capote’s story, despite the elegance of the telling, brims with horror and violence and grief.

The creation of suspense often relies on the audience knowing something the characters do not — there’s a killer behind the door; there’s a body in the bathtub; there’s a strange egg hatching in the forest. And Summa’s experiment is a tantalizing one: Can an audience create all the suspense needed to nourish a film from just one slender opening title? It’s just a shame that the conclusion we can draw from “The Last to See Them,” a film too much thought about and too little felt, is that we cannot.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Last to See Them'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 10, 2019. Running Time: 79 MIN. (Original title: "Gli Ultimi a Vederli Vivere")

Production: (Germany) A Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie Berlin production. (International Sales: DFFB, Berlin.) Producer: Cecilia Trautvetter.

Crew: Director, writer, editor: Sara Summa. Camera (color): Katharina Schelling. Music: Ben Roessler.

With: Barbara Verrastro, Pasquale Lioi, Canio Lancellotti, Donatella Viola, Mauro De Felice, Michela Imperatore, Samantha Lioi, Massimiliano Bossa, Antonio Martino, Rocco Martino. (Italian dialogue)

More Film

  • The-Prosecutor-the-President-and-the-Spy-poster

    Justin Webster Sheds Light on the Alberto Nisman Case in New Documentary Series

    SAN SEBASTIAN — On Jan. 14, 2015 prosecutor Alberto Nisman went on TV to accuse Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of negotiating the impunity of Iranians accused of the Buenos Aires’ 1994 AMIA bombing, the biggest terrorist attack in the Western hemisphere before 9/11. “There was an alliance with terrorists, negotiation with a state [...]

  • San Sebastian Debates Burgeoning Spain-China Axis

    San Sebastian Debates Burgeoning Spain-China Axis

    SAN SEBASTIAN —  On Monday afternoon, leading figures from the Chinese and Spanish industries gathered to discuss future plans, sitting for a panel called “China/Spain: The Belt and Road Initiatives: The New Era for Co-Production.” Moderated by producer Ying Liu, the panel brought together executives Marta Ezpeleta (The Mediapro Studio), Lu Wei (Beijing East Purple [...]

  • michiel-huisman-tadanobu-asano

    'Game of Thrones'' Michiel Huisman, Tadanobu Asano Round Out Thriller 'Kate' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has rounded out the cast of its upcoming action movie “Kate,” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, with the addition of Tadanobu Asano, Michiel Huisman, Jun Kunimura, Miyavi Lee Ishihara and newcomer Miku Martineau. Woody Harrelson is also on board to star in the film, which is directed by “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” helmer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. [...]

  • Stray Dolls Movie

    Samuel Goldwyn Films Acquires Cynthia Nixon's Tribeca Player 'Stray Dolls' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Stray Dolls,” a Tribeca Film Festival entry from up-and-coming director Sonejuhi Sinha, has sold North American distribution rights to Samuel Goldwyn Films. Eyeing an early 2020 release, the film stars breakout Geetanjali Thapa, Olivia DeJonge (Netflix’s “The Society”), Robert Aramayo (young Eddard Stark on “Game of Thrones”) and Cynthia Nixon. Thapa plays Riz, a former [...]

  • Mick Jagger, Donald Sutherland. Actors Mick

    'The Burnt Orange Heresy' With Mick Jagger, Donald Sutherland Sells Worldwide

    HanWay Films has closed out worldwide sales on “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” the art-heist film that screened in Venice and Toronto. The movie stars Mick Jagger, Claes Bang, and Donald Sutherland. It closed the Venice Film Festival. In addition to North America, where Giuseppe Capotondi’s film will open in spring 2020, SPC has acquired rights [...]

  • Between Worlds Nicolas Cage

    Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff to Star in Pulse Films’ Truffle Hunter Movie ‘Pig’

    Nicolas Cage is a truffle hunter who wants his pig back in “Pig,” which started production Monday in Oregon. The film, which Michael Sarnoski will direct from his own script, will also star Alex Wolff (“Hereditary”). Pulse Films, BlockBox Entertainment, Valparaiso Pictures and Cage’s Saturn Pictures are producing in association with Escape Artists and Sweet [...]

  • Sid Haig Dies Devil's Rejects

    Sid Haig, Horror Actor in Rob Zombie Trilogy, Dies at 80

    Sid Haig, known for his role as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” trilogy, died Saturday. He was 80. His wife announced the news on Instagram. Haig had a fall several weeks ago and suffered serious breathing complications after arriving at the hospital. He died of a lung infection. “On Saturday, September [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content