THE LAST SUIT— 4 STARS
There is superb tipping point in The Last Suit that transforms the film’s emotional disposition. Up to that point, the character of Abraham Bursztein was showing many shades of being as common of a cantankerous old man as you would expect from a gentleman pushing 90. Stewing about one thing or another, Abraham’s road movie pitfalls in trying to get from his home in Argentina back to his native country of Poland brought more smirks than anything else. But when the musical score amplifies, flashbacks enter to extend and expound a sad scope to his story. Once that gravity arrives, The Last Suit takes on a far more meaningful dimension and increases the desire to satisfy this character’s sense of urgency.
Making its Chicago premiere this weekend playing for a run at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Pablo Solarz’s film earns every measure of its stirring dedication. The Last Suit has an approachable and undeniable warmth beneath that thorny senior center masterfully played by Miguel Ángel Solá. The writer and director himself will join audience discussion on the Friday and Saturday evening showings. Keen audiences looking for an empathetic elixir would do well to absorb and appreciate this film at the Siskel.
LESSON #1: NEVER FORGET THAT OLD MEN STILL CARRY VIGOR AND FIRE — An uncouth and sharp talker, Abraham Bursztein is a great-grandfather who is being shuffled off, not his mortal coil, but into an assisting living center at the behest of his adult children. The man still carries himself with a high standard veering towards boastfulness as he pushes proper manners on others, admonishes laziness, schmoozes to get his way, and wears fine, albeit outdated, fashions as a former tailor. Even slowed, his spark is not extinguished yet.
Realizing he has very little independent time left, a reminder from the past stirs him to escape his trip to the nursing home for a journey of his own. Adorned in a three-piece striped teal-hued suit, a corduroy hat, and a pattern neck scarf underneath an open-collared dress shirt, Abraham takes the rest of his money and makes a run for Europe. His destination is Łódź, Poland, a country name he refuses to speak out loud under any circumstance. Aside from a suitcase, his only luggage is the garment bag carrying the last suit he ever constructed, one reserved for an old friend. You see, Mr. Bursztein is a Holocaust survivor and the equally painful and hopeful story behind the intended recipient of this special piece of apparel is what inspires the aforesaid shift of seriousness and importance.
It becomes abundantly and powerfully clear that every step of this personal quest is driven by long-held guilt. The further Abraham goes, the more his jovialness is replaced by grim determination. Miguel Ángel Solá composes an outstanding and award-worthy lead performance to span this witnessed catharsis. What Sola conveys with facial tics and body language emote both sides of this film’s personality while his words punch with potency and compassion.
When Sola’s Abraham is swapping stories and trading barbs with the pleasant and helpful people he meets along the way, including a hotel manager and singer played by Ángela Molina (Broken Embraces) and Martín Piroyansky’s unsuspecting guide, the peacock comes out with charm and persuasion in how Sola fixes his gaze and hold a stare. In contrast, when Abraham is approaching his estranged daughter (Olga Boladz) or causticly resenting a sympathetic German woman (Julia Beerhold) simply for her nationality, the way Sola will reel in momentary disgust before correcting himself disarms the guard and reveals the broken man underneath. The range of his performance is extraordinary.
The very same superlatives can be shared to Pablo Solarz’s engaging narrative and patient direction. The sense of reserve is brilliant, never rushing to tell this story’s hidden details and truths. The encounters Solarz (Together Forever, The Bottle, Intimate Stories) writes nimbly flex from witty to stout and always champion the charisma of the performers on-screen. Like the main character, the gravitas of The Last Suit disarms us wonderfully, guided by Federico Jusid’s (The Secret in Their Eyes) escalating score that swells for the flashbacks and resolution perfectly. An American film on this topic would pull its punches and side with hijinks like The Bucket List. Instead, honesty and integrity shine through while rightfully earning sizable poetic sentiment.
LESSON #2: MORTAL CLOSURE — The film speaks of facing one’s remaining time with gratitude and joy. For some, that’s shared time with loved ones. For Abraham and true to Lesson #1, that appreciation comes from reflective solitude and not the variety he will find confined in a senior center. Abraham wants to go out on his terms and at his speed of vitality towards the main source that enabled the life he has been lucky to lead since enduring the atrocities he did over 70 years ago.
LESSON #3: IMPORTANCE OF PROMISES — The necessary closure from Lesson #2 involves the need to fulfill an important promise, a pressing one on his age and his heart. The gesture Abraham wants to extend may seem simple to the observant strangers he meets. However, it is a pledge that resonates greatly towards his own personal healing. Circling back to that tipping point, when you understand the roots of this covenant, then it all matters more.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#699)