THE LAST FACE balances romance and revolution
The challenge of filming a ‘boy-meets-girl’ budding romance amid a war or national crisis is to create and maintain balance. No one in the film industry wants to be remembered for smothering or washing out a historical event with a romantic interlude, nor would they want to be remembered for filming an epic historical film with a forgettable and unnecessary minor romance. It would be impossible to stylistically perfect the harmony between the two components, but there should be equal relevance and respect for both. Examples of films which tackled this challenge were Pearl Harbor (2001), Titanic (1997), Casablanca (1942), and Gone with the Wind (1939). Whether or not the films listed here succeeded at balancing those factors may lie in the opinions and reactions of the audiences for which they were intended – as expectations for any film can become a subjective term to the viewer and what the audience is expecting to see in a film – true balances of relevance and respect – that is the overall goal. Director Sean Penn has provided the newest addition to this sub-group with The Last Face (2017).
Charlize Theron plays Wren, the director of an international aid agency who travels to Africa to make a difference, and Javier Bardem plays Miguel, a relief aid doctor assigned to the same site. They have to assist with saving lives in every way they can, and within their trained abilities, amidst a social and political revolution. This is violence and political unrest the likes of which the average American is not generally accustomed. How much of this environment one can take on a daily basis depends on their individual tolerance – their training and their limits of exposure to this graphic and unyielding reality. Whenever things seem to be going well, and the staff and children are allowed a few moments to frolic and enjoy life, that is typically when disaster occurs. Wren and Miguel have a rough start as they are thrown together while accustomed to their own views, values, and priority systems. They clash and struggle to maintain their grip on their duties and develop their relationship, but as time goes on it becomes apparent that one of them can deal better than the other.
The story is told in present time, while flashing back to when Wren and Miguel first met. Since they are not together in present time, the film details the events that drove them apart. Since their professions constantly threaten their lives on a daily basis, it is likely something greater would drive them apart.
Supporting cast includes Adele Exarchopoulos, who plays Wren’s cousin Ellen; Jared Harris, who plays Dr. John Farber; and Jean Reno, playing the part of “Dr. Love”.
The film brings nothing new, but it is certainly a worthy effort. If you are entertained by films like Hotel Rwanda (2004), and Blood Diamond (2006), then this film may disturb yet inspire you.