Luc Besson, the workaholic who has written and produced many more works than most will be familiar with, started out on his directorial career with some very experimental pieces. This is perhaps the difference between good European cinema and that provided to us over the water on the west coast of the United States. Directors seems to start off experimenting over this way then settle on their own stylised paths, over the water they seem to have those paths ear marked from the get go and once they have made some cash then go for a little experimentation.
Besson's second feature in this regard is one Le Dernier Combat, The Last Battle. Starring his old time collaborator, Jean Reno, it follows the fortunes of one man, credited as The Man (Pierre Jolivet), as he tries in vain to come to terms with the society he now has to live in. That society is a post apocalyptic hell, punctuated with fierce, rabid gangs protecting their own small worthless territories, and violent individuals intent on grabbing anything and everything they can for themselves.
The Man has a plan, to escape his brutal, deserted city surroundings and find pastures anew. To these ends he constructs a small aircraft and flies off to see if he can make sense of what is going on around him, perhaps hoping to find some pocket of humanity. He stumbles across The Brute (Jean Reno), whose only intent is to kill him and take whatever remains, and an odd Doctor (Jean Bouise) who takes pity on him, offering him shelter, medication and a chance to understand what has happened to the world.
There is no dialogue in this feature at all, none. Well not strictly true as “bonjour” is spoken in pigeon French twice in the same scene. Apart from that the viewer has to put the pieces together themselves, there is no hand holding here to speak of at all. In some ways this makes the viewer concentrate more on the picture that they are watching, trying to eek out every last syllable from the silent images they see before them. It's usually a worthwhile experience and can provide some reward when viewing, I'm just not quite sure that this is a good enough example with which to practise this art.
The film itself seems to say nothing, seems to go relatively nowhere. It's confusing at the best of times and that's indicative of Besson not really making a good enough story which the viewer can latch onto. Besson is a good enough film maker however one of his major failings and one which has come back to haunt him time and again over the years is that he has style over substance. If any of his work shows this then Le Denier Combat must be the best example so far. I am sure that Besson himself knew exactly what he was trying to say, however in this instance he fails when trying to get that vision across to the viewer.
It's part Mad Max and in part it's Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner! The Mad Max similarities are more than obvious; small pockets of humanity trying to survive as best they can in a world which has destroyed itself. These pockets look after themselves and themselves only, allowing no outsiders to infiltrate their very small communities. Almost half way through the film The Man comes into contact with The Brute and The Doctor and it is Jean Reno's attempts at breaching The Doctor's deserted hospital that reminded me of Wile E. Coyote's ill fated attempts at securing his next meal. I am sure Besson never intended this association but I for one could not help but have a small chuckle to myself when these scenes appeared.
There is no reason given of the history of the world they now live in, although when confronted by The Doctor it is more than apparent that whatever caused this complete destruction of civilisation also caused our players to lose their speech. He is trying to find a 'cure' for this and I did feel that this should have been explored more thoroughly. Man still has the knowledge of how to speak (The Man for instance can still read), it seems though that the vocal chords do not work in the current atmosphere. Once this was being explored I did sit up a little and take notice unfortunately though Besson does not pursue this avenue at all and I thought it to be a serious oversight.
Ultimately it's an intriguing watch; compelling in some ways as you want to know what is going on, you want to find some answers. All we are left with though is a series of questions and scenarios which are never fully explored. Interesting if you're a Besson fan however I do think that the majority will be left somewhat confused and cold by Besson's first real foray into the movie making business.
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