Reminiscent of both Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) and the genre-art house hybridisation of Nicolas Wending Refn’s Drive (2011), Laurent Achard’s Derniere Séance deconstructs the traditional horror film only to reassemble it as a dark and brooding meditation on the delights of cinephilia.
The one thing that unites all members of a cinema audience is the fact that they are members of a cinema audience. Because of this simple tautology, audiences tend to respond well to films that praise them for their decision to go to the cinema. What do Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988) and Truffaut’s 400 Blows (1959) have in common? They both pander to their audiences by validating their love of film. Achard’s Last Screening is also about loving the cinema but rather than praising his audience for their good taste, Achard lambasts them for their toxic self-indulgence.
Sylvain (Pascal Cervo) is the manager of a repertory cinema in provincial France. Utterly devoted to the cinema, Sylvain seldom goes out except to kill women and cut off their ears. Much like Powell’s Peeping Tom, Last Screening muses on the voyeuristic nature of cinema and Achard repeatedly assails us with shots of people staring blankly at the camera setting up a similar mirroring effect to that of Kiarostami’s Shirin (2008), where the audience sat watching a cinema audience that could just as easily have been watching them. Achard also litters his film with images of darkened figures staring at illuminated performers, further extending his explicit comparison between the voyeurism of the cinema-goer and the voyeurism of the predatory serial killer. Postmodern cinematography aside, Achard’s critique of cinephilia also extends to the film’s plot as Sylvain’s crimes turn out to be motivated by a desire to recapture the film-viewing moments of his youth. For Achard, cinephilia is clearly a source of genuine joy (he obviously adores Renoir’s French Cancan) but that joy can also turn toxic as a love of old film can result in people becoming stuck in the past or shut off to new forms and experiences. With Sylvain, Achard offers us an image of twisted cinephilia.
Though marketed as a horror film, Last Screening is really more of an art house project. Seldom frightening, seldom tense and only occasionally gory, its murders are not sensationalist ends in themselves but props in Achard’s wider exploration of Sylvain’s twisted mental state. As you might expect from an art house character study, Last Screening’s pacing in slow, deliberate and filled with languid extended takes in which nothing much happens and nothing is said. Elegantly shot and intelligently conceived, Last Screening is a combative and genuinely thought-provoking film whose absolute lack of sentiment about film itself serves as a timely antidote to a medium that can be altogether too swift to pat itself on the back.