[Cinepocalypse 2019 Review] The Last to See Them/Gli ultimi a vederli vivere
I still remember reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood during my Junior year of high school. The story of a family of four, torn apart by a single act of fate stuck with me and made me realize the power of true fiction. The Last to See Them, making its North American debut at The Cinepocalypse Film Festival, seems like the Italian answer to that story. But while there’s similarities in the plot and characters, it fails to elicit much tension or horror. Instead it is a slice of life drama that happens to have a bloodless, but no less tragic, ending.
The Last to See Them starts ominously enough, with a slow tracking shot that moves across a dark and desolate stretch of the Italian countryside. Accompanying the stark visuals is a lush and haunting mix of piano and strings, creeping along in the background. It carries the same sense of menace and unease that the opening shots of the Torrance family making its trek to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
As we follow along with the mysterious camera perspective, stark words paint the picture: “On a Saturday night in the late summer 2012, the Durati family was killed during the robbery of their house.” What follows documents the Durati family’s final day alive.
Abruptly, we’re introduced to Dora (Barbara Verrastro) and her younger brother Matteo (Pasquale Lioi) as they bicker over how long it’s taking Dora to get to the phone. The Last to See Them has an odd structure at times because after we’re first introduced to the family through the daughter answering the phone and then talking to her father about her many tasks, the time resets. We then follow Renzo (Canio Lancellotti), Dora and Matteo’s father, as he has his breakfast and then begins to work in his office before Dora comes in to talk to him about her many tasks. This happens a few times during the slight narrative (less than 80 minutes) as we see these small slice-of-life-scenes from different perspectives.
It paints a full picture of this small family’s isolated life. Their small house sits in stark contrast in a rather desolate-looking prairie, surrounded by dust and trees. The sturdy house has an element of decay to it. It looks untended in spots. You get the sense this is emblematic of the Durati’s lives. And so we follow them on this otherwise ordinary day, full of petty squabbles while, unbeknownst to them, the childreen will soon be found dead in their beds; their parents tied up to chairs.
And while that might seem to be a spoiler, know that we’re told this in the opening frames. People looking for some grand mystery of why them or a Strangers-style home invasion setup will be deeply disappointed. The Durati family, as in life, is just part of the whimsy of fate and timing. Instead, the narrative mostly ignores the fact that this is the last day of their lives. Writer/Director Sara Summa seems mostly interested in documenting a day in the life of a typical family and while it’s an accurate portrayal of families just wasting their remaining seconds, I didn’t find it very intriguing or engaging.
Death hangs over this family like a pall. The mom Alice (Donatella Viola) stalks the home like a ghost. She’s very sick and in need of an operation and it makes her movement lagubrious and laborious. Renzo, meanwhile, spends his time preparing for the inevitability of death by filling out a very expensive (and according to the insurance agent, needless) life insurance policy. Matteo spends his time practicing his trumpet for an upcoming wedding and preparing a box, his gift to the betrothed. But we don’t get much in the way of their personality. The way Matteo caresses a dress and is defensive when asked why he’s not interested in girls hints that there’s more to him, but it—like everything else—is mostly untouched.
Dora seems to have some subconscious feeling that something ominous is happening. While on the phone with her friend, she bemoans her suddenly strict father, saying, “you don’t understand, I’m shaken. Yesterday everything was so great, now…I don’t know.” As she teaches someone how to make a pie, she keeps checking her watch, realizing that time is slipping away. And while it could be perceived as a typical teenage response, the act has more meaning and dramatic irony as we know this will be the last time she makes her locally famous pies. That this kid could be the last person to see them alive.
I just wish it had more weight to it.