New from Solzy at the Movies by Danielle Solzman: The Last: Audience Will Ask Questions

The Last is one of those films in which the audience is going to be left with questions but mainly we’re left to ask ourselves–what would we have done?

It’s a normal Rosh HaShanah afternoon for the Dorman family as everyone gathers around for the Tashlikh service.  Little do they know that the normalcy they experience will soon be changing.  Much of the conversation relates to special-needs teacher Josh (AJ Cedeño) and his engagement to music teacher Olivia (Jill Durso).  Josh identifies as Orthodox while Olivia is undergoing a Jewish conversion.

At a family Passover seder later in the year, there’s a lot of discussion about religion and the divine what with Harry Dorman (Reed Birney) being agnostic and all.  Meanwhile, Harry’s wife, Melody (Julie Fain Lawrence), sings in the shul choir and also writes obituaries.  But anywhere, there’s a lot of questions for Josh and Olivia about their belief in G-d and divine miracles.  With all the commentary, one would think that this film would be full of existential questions.  Oh, are we in for a major surprise.  It turns out that the family matriarch, Claire (Rebecca Schull), is not who we think.

During a beachfront scene when Claire addresses Olivia and Josh, Rebecca Schull has a true chance to shine.  Much of this is due to the 45-minute sequence where Claire is mostly addressing the duo but also the camera.  It’s some shocking stuff and very game-changing for this film.  It turns out that Claire has been lying about her background during the war.  She isn’t as much of a Holocaust survivor in as much as she was a Nazi.  It gets worse.  The father of her now dead daughter was also a Nazi and a monster at that.  Oy gevalt!  This bombshell piece of news is damaging for her family and rightfully so.  As far as Jeff Lipsky’s script goes, I’ll applaud his very daring approach to the film.

Here’s a character who is 92 years old and settled in New York after leaving Germany.  Claire’s story starts more or less with her mother, Marta.  Regardless, it has several ramifications for her own family.  A family that grew up knowing one thing only to realize that it’s not true.  This leads granddaughter Melody to take it out on her.  Having lost both of her parents, she has every reason to take it out on her grandmother.  This isn’t the only ramification.  Josh–who identifies as Orthodox–now much undergo a Jewish conversion.  The second half of the film is more or less the family reacting to the news and what to do with Claire.  Should she be allowed to die in peace or be taken into custody for her wrongdoing?  This is the question.  The answer is not as easy as one might think.

It’s still early in 2019 but Lipsky gives us one of the most daring films in this young year.  I’m using “daring” quite a lot but it’s hard to think of a different word.  It’s a very original film with quite the shocker at hand.  We have a film where it’s learned a close family member is really a Nazi.  This is a film that audiences will have to answer the question for theirselves.  To say that The Last isn’t daring in its approach would be an understatement to say the least.

CAST:  Reed Birney, AJ Cedeño, Jill Durso, Julie Fain Lawrence, Rebecca Schull

The Last held its world premiere during the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival. The film opens in theaters on March 29, 2019. Grade: 4/5

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