|'The close relationship between Cochise and Gilou feels entirely genuine and emerges as one of the film's strongest elements'.|
With its biblically-inspired name and a character called Jésus (Philippe Rebbot) who may or may not be the Jesus, you might expect The First, The Last to be centred around a theological narrative. But whilst religion, specifically Christianity, is clearly in the back of director and star Bouli Lanners' mind (playing "spot the crucifix" throughout is increasingly satisfying), his film is far more concerned with philosophical questions in general rather than ones tied to a specific faith.
That the director approaches his topic through a road-movie-cum-crime-drama with a blackly comic slant makes The First, The Last feel truly original. Lanners offers up two parallel narratives: the first following Cochise (Albert Dupontel) and Gilou (Lanners), a pair of heavies sent by their employer to retrieve a stolen phone containing incriminating files; the second focused upon Willy (David Murgia) and Esther (Aurore Brutin), a couple on the run who just happen to have the phone Cochise and Gilou are after.
Whilst the four characters feel destined to meet, the path Lanners takes from the opening of his film to its conclusion is one few will be able to predict. The way in which Lanners gradually unfolds the convoluted and interconnected nature of the tale he's telling works well, a slow-burning shaggy dog story complete with initially tangential elements that reveal their importance later on. The distinctive cinematography from Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd also ensures that The First, The Last is regularly a pleasure to behold on screen, with several stunning panoramic shots that are destined to stick in your memory long after the film is over.
With Lanners' brace of plots unfolding alongside each other, its the former which undoubtedly proves to be the stronger of the two. Whilst Cochise and Gilou may begin the film (purposefully) looking and feeling like stereotypical jaded criminals, the director soon shows that this is not the case. The way in which the emotional side of both men is gradually revealed by Lanners is excellent; the close relationship between them feels entirely genuine and emerges as one of the film's strongest elements.
In comparison, however, Willy and Esther feel less successful, and it's through them that Lanner's more aimless nature comes to the fore. After spending the first half of the film journeying towards an unknown destination, the director allows the pair's story to grind to a halt a little too much to truly satisfy. Whilst the performances of Murgia and Brutin are fine, neither is as strong as Dupontel or Lanners, and their characters are simply less interesting than their criminal opposites.
Whilst Lanners is clearly more interested in character than plot, the fact that the director becomes so unconcerned with developing the narrative during the middle section proves frustrating at times, as well as making the unification of the two stories in the final act feel a little more manufactured than it should. And then there's Jésus, one of several questions Lanners is happy to leave unanswered, some of which add to the ethereal feel of the film's (either literally or metaphorically) post-apocalyptic setting, with others you'll wish the director had resolved far more neatly.
The First, The Last plays LIFF30 again on Wednesday 9th November at 18.00 and Thursday 10th November at 20.45, both at Vue in The Light.
The 30th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 3rd-17th November 2016 at thirty venues across the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.