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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

AFF Review: Last Summer

Last Summer tells the story of Naomi (Rinko Kikuchi), a Japanese woman who has lost custody of her young son, Ken (Ken Brady). She is given just four days to spend with him, and must do so on her ex-husband's yacht, where the crew struggles to make the best of an awkward situation as the father makes incessant phone calls to check up on the boy. To make matters worse, Ken is extremely distant and prefers the English civility of the crew to his mother who tries desperately to connect with him one last time.

If the film had to be described in one word, that word would undoubtedly be restrained. It is a very quiet film with nearly no music, only the sounds of the wind and surf as the group floats aimlessly through the utterly gorgeous waters just off an unspecified European coastline. 95% of the movie takes place on or around the yacht, which makes for a very intimate and slow building narrative.

Much like her performance in Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (which we discussed in our 2015 Rexie Awards), Kikuchi brings a mountain of emotional movement to the film with extremely contained and careful actions. The script provides only her attempts to connect with the boy and rarely has her say anything outright, but rather allows Kikuchi to use her body and face to subtly convey the gradually changing relationship between her and her son. The chemistry between the two is at once heartbreaking and fully believable. It's hard to believe that Kikuchi, even given as talented an actress as she has proven herself to be, produced two stellar and unique performances in the same year.

Last Summer's script, too, is well crafted, and gives each of the players in the small cast some key moments and rounded narratives. Though the crew represents a cold sterility for much of the film, the captain (Yorick van Wageningen) and young stewardess that takes care of Ken (Lucy Griffiths) have carefully created motives that are revealed slowly, like shells uncovered by the tides. These two actors bring a similar reserved but impressive performance to the table that add an undercurrent of empathy to the conflict.

While this is the first feature length film for director Leonardo Guerra Seràgnoli, it is abundantly clear that there are big things to come from him. Last Summer is a unique film that avoids the harsh arguments and melodrama of typical family dramas and instead reels in those feelings and focuses solely on the internal struggles, magnified by the isolation of the setting. The film portrays a battle between silence and noise, strict rules and free will, modern life and ancient culture under the layer of motherhood. Last Summer may not be a movie that hits hard, it's themes and story are sure to stick with you for quite some time.

Last Summer is currently showing at film festivals. For more information, visit the film's official website.
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