Last Film Show Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Spiritual, enlightening a powerful ode to the making of motion pictures! Pan Nalin created the ultimate love letter to old-school celluloid flicks.
Director: Pan Nalin
Cast: Bhavin Rabari, Bhavesh Shrimali, Richa Meena, Dipen Raval, Rahul Koli, Vikas Bata, Shoban Makwa, Kishan Parmar & Alpesh Tank.
Run Time: 110 min.
US Release: 06 January 2022 (limited release)
UK Release: N/A
German Release: 12 May 2022
I came by this Indian production, completely by accident, as I was surfing the net for new releases in Germany. I heard recommendations and good stories of Nalin’s newest flick, so I decided to go see it in the first theatre that showed it. To my luck, I found one that displayed it in the original language - Gujarati - with subtitles, as I believe that a lot of meaning is lost when simply dubbed. I am also sure my statement stands true especially for this feature, as I was riveted from the beginning till the end! So let's talk about … Last Film Show.
When the magic of cinema engrosses Samay, the nine-year-old is willing to do anything from that day onwards, to make his 35mm dreams come true. Little did he know that his path would lead him through some painful, yet life-changing times.
Pan Nalin created the absolute love letter to old-school 35mm cinema as a semi-autobiographical feature. The narrative focuses on a nine-year-old Indian boy’s fascination with the craft of movie-making. That passion nearly consumes him, as he begins to be driven by an unstoppable urge to understand how light and colour can create fairy tales, as he wants to become a filmmaker. Nalin used his memories of what fascinated him about the art of motion pictures, fabricating a unique fable for cinephiles.
Set in the Indian state of Gujarat, where the director was born and raised himself, Last Film Show is a coming-of-age drama that explores the life of Samay, who uses the art of visual story-telling, to escape the simplicity of his mundane life. The poverty-stricken family is not centre stage here though, since it is not supposed to be a statement about social status. This is a movie about how the wonders of imagination, when brought to life, can help to shine a light towards a brighter future; how each one of us holds a piece of creativity, that is an ability of our mind to drive us and give us purpose in life.
At the same time, it uses the evolving times of cinema, as a direct metaphor for changes happening in his hometown that have a direct effect on Samay’s family and himself, as he gradually makes steps from childhood into adulthood, losing his innocent naivete.
Dialogues are seldom, yet when people speak, they do so with an impact. Every spoken scene leaves an imprint on one of the characters! No nonsensical lines are used, a refreshing change that I welcomed with admiration.
Bhavin Rabari gives a wonderful rendition of Samay, the young protagonist, who has a good perception and a keen eye for the unusual. A grand storyteller from the beginning, his fascination for the light theatre is awoken, when his father takes the family to a once-in-a-lifetime showing of a movie that represents his religious values. Rabari masterfully expressed the awe and wonder that his character feels for the 35mm celluloid, giving one of the best, as well as most convincing performances I saw a child actor give.
Bhavesh Shrimali as Fazal, the projectionist of the Galaxy theatre, represents a possible reflection of what could become of Samay in the future. The friendship that blossoms between both is one of the key points of the plot, as well as being one of the most beautiful moments in this picture. Fazal, just like young Samay, uses his job to find an escape from day to day life, thus strengthening the bond between the two characters and making their friendship more believable.
Richa Meena plays Samay’s mother Baa, a quiet but very tender woman who loves her children above all else. Dipen Raval as Samay’s father Bapuji is the antithesis of Fazal, for him movies are a waste of time, going against his belief, and are made by bad persons. He is very strict with him, using a stick to beat him when he doesn’t listen. Bapuji also has a tragic past that moulded him into the person we see on screen. Raval gave a very good performance, especially during the end when he starts opening up emotionally!
The cinematography is astounding, involving the audience directly with the characters' lives; their passions, their hopes and dreams, though mostly their pain. This is emphasised by extreme close-ups of characters’ faces that express emotion, or by focusing on their hands when working with their fingers. An overhead close-up is used, every time Baa cooks something for Samay, triggering nasal receptors in the viewer's mind, as if able to smell what is being prepared. Equally fascinating are the close-ups used when Fazal teaches Samay how to cut film reels and work a projector. The attention to detail that is captured on camera, arouses a fascination for a projectionist's job.
Director of photography Swapnil S. Sonaewane also makes use of masterful wide-angled shots, encapsulating not only the astonishing scenery of Gujarat but also the game between lights and shadows that fall on the grasslands or in a musky train wagon passing through the scenery, however, it is most noticeable in the single showing room of the Galaxy Cinema that Samay visits. The colour palette is vibrantly strong, while other times we get flashes of black and white, paying homage to other picture-makers. These cinematographic tributes to different directors are spread out throughout the film.
The music is serene, never stealing the attention of the narrative but accompanying it. Nevertheless, the soundtrack leaves a powerful spiritual imprint on the viewer, hours after watching. Cyril Morin composed a cool, electrifying soundtrack.
Verdict: In times in which love letters to cinema are represented by gooey, overly kitsch recitals, Pan Nalin's coming-of-age drama represents an earnest and thankful message to all those that inspired him, while inviting the world to take part in his passion for filmmaking. Remarkably written, using his own experiences as a young boy from Gujarat, Nalin gives his script a lot of heart. The lead child actor Rabari gives a grand performance, capturing the spirit of exploration into a fantastic world. The formidable acting is rounded off by Bhavesh Shrimali and Dipen Raval, who give their personas wonderful renditions, respectively. The camera work is magical, consisting of emotional close-ups, as well as jaw-dropping wide shots, while the music is hypnotic. Last Film Show is art that has to be seen, absolutely deserving its 10 out of 10.
If you are a cinephile, I can only recommend you go see it, should it play at a theatre nearby. It is an absolutely, uniquely told story!