As we near the end of yet another bombastic, overbearing, loud and uninspired summer film season, this weekend is set to send the season off with a final series of explosions, silly plots and enough vapid characters to fill just about any blockbuster season all their own.
However, we haven’t been, and aren’t this weekend, without a bit of counterprogramming. And it doesn’t get much further away from a film like Getaway than the glacially paced new film from director Matias Meyer.
His third film, The Last Christeros is an intimate and molasses-paced portrait of a group of gun-toting Roman Catholics who appear to be on the run from and in direct conflict with the government that appears to be less than interested in their saintly ways. Now, while that premise hints at a film that could be a relatively action-filled film about the persecuted taking on the persecutors, that could not be further from the truth, and this film couldn’t be further from anything we’ve seen this summer. And it’s a good thing.
Meyer’s picture is a relatively simple film, both aesthetically and intellectually, but it’s also a film that’s quietly thrilling. Meyer’s frame is for the most part static, occasionally tracking along during one of the film’s many shots of our group’s traveling, and it’s beautifully shot. With gorgeous photography and some really interesting costume design, the film feels as palpable as one could ask for, and the aesthetic feels like Kelly Reichardt but on Quaaludes. Actually, a comparison to a film like Meek’s Cutoff is more than fitting, both in the staid camera work and the hyper real photography. The dolly work here is great, all making the film feel as cinematic as it attempts to feel “real.”
And thematically its quite interesting as well. While the story itself is an interesting look at a group of fighters in the moments in between fights, waiting for battle, the film itself is ostensibly a quaint and slowly moving meditation on loneliness. With only their God and each other seemingly at their side, the film finds in its subtext a great tale of loneliness, while the dialogue being somewhere between naturalistic asides and philosophical meditating. A bombastic brass-backed score adorns the film as well, making the proceedings feel all the more exciting and percussive, while Meyer’s camera is as interested in isolating these men as they feel the world has done to them.
That camera is a telling one. The photography and framing are indeed great, but they are also thematically exciting. Only occasionally allowing the men to join one another in discussion, even in those moments of connection, the world surrounding them is shot and framed in a way that hints at it being both vast and also isolating. These men are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, and one finds it hard to imagine a more visceral and personal reason for being ostracized than that. And Meyer’s film has no issue portraying the world around this group as one that sees them as outsiders.
Overall, while the pace here is not going to be for everyone, and the final sequence may turn off those looking for something a tad more subtle, Meyer has crafted a film that is as brazenly anti-whatever the hell it is Hollywood gave us the past few months. It makes Michael Haneke look like Michael Bay on a nitrous-oxide fueled week-long bender. An interesting meditation on loneliness, The Last Christeros may not be for everyone, but it’s one that needs to be seen.