THE LAST SUIT/EL ULTIMO TRAJE, Argentina, 2017. Starring Miguel Angel Sola, Angela Molina, Martin Piroyanski, Natalia Verbeke, Julia Beerhold, Olga Boadz, Jan Mayzel. Directed by Pablo Solarz. 98 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language)
This is a very fine film, a film that makes life worthwhile for a film reviewer. It can be well recommended.
The basic setting for the film is Argentina, opening with a joyous celebration of the Jewish community, music, dance, a reminder of the old traditions. However, the keeper of the traditions in this film is an 88-year-old patriarch of the family, significantly called Abraham, who is terminally ill, has a leg which strictly needs amputation, who is being sent by his daughters and their families to a retirement home. On the surface, he seems to accept this, but… He is played persuasively by Miguel Angel Sola.
In the middle of the film, when he reluctantly seeks out his youngest daughter in Madrid after he has been robbed, having previously refused to apologise for his disinheriting her in favour of her two sisters, there is a strong reference to the plot of King Lear. The daughters in Argentina who are sending their father to the retirement home have professed their love for him while the youngest daughter, Claudia, accuse them of hypocrisy. (There is an explicit reference to Shakespeare and King Lear in the final credits.)
The film is also a Holocaust memorial film. Abraham lost his family in the camps ini Poland, was able to escape with the help of a friend. He had been able to migrate to Argentina but had let contact with his friend lapse. As he faces his death, he decides to return to Poland and the bulk of the film shows his journey.
He is a resourceful old man, relying on a literally underground agency to get his ticket to Europe. He imposes himself on a quiet young man on the plane – who later does ask Abraham’s help and offers to drive him in Madrid. Before he gets his train to Poland, Abraham goes to an old hotel, encounters Maria who runs the place, who takes him to a club where she sings after he misses his train and they reminisce about the past.
There are various episodes, all interesting and entertaining, as Abraham pursues his travels, getting tangled with language in Paris, being helped by a young woman archaeologist who is able to speak Yiddish – who then has to bear the brunt of Abraham’s hostility towards Germans, not wanting to set foot on German soil as he makes his way from France to Poland. As with his daughter, so with this young woman, Abraham has to learn to let go of some of his angers and hostility and appreciate the kindness of others.
There is also great kindness in Poland, especially from the nurse in the hospital where he is taken after collapsing on the train (aggravated by his memories of the past, seen in flashbacks, his injuries after the war, his seeking help from his friend, but a cruel sequence of memories where he is mocked by decadent German soldiers and their women).
There is great emotion at the end of the film, great hope in a film which acknowledges human weakness but also invests in human resilience, forgiveness and reconciliation.
JIFF Released August 16th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.