The Last Step
Details: 88 mins, Iran,
Synopsis: After Khosro (Ali Mosaffa) dies in a ridiculous accident, he lingers around his film star wife, Leila (Leila Hatami), reviewing their complicated but loving marriage. Previously unexplained truths dawn on him but Leila still has some secrets...
A matter of wife and death for deceased narrator.
The Last Step has a melancholic, lived-in quality
IRANIAN FILM FESTIVAL AUSTRALIA: “This is where the story of my death begins,” announces Koshrow (writer/director Ali Mosaffa) near the beginning of his intricate and quietly illuminating feature, The Last Step. Unlike William Holden’s Joe Gillis in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd., the Tehran architect isn’t meant to tell the story of what leads to his narration from the other side, instead he fixates on the space his passing leaves and the events that preceded it.
“So let’s forget about the order of events,” Koshrow says, and coming from both a character and the filmmaker, it establishes the idea of the film’s commentary on not just Koshrow’s life and his interactions with those around him, but on the process of making the movie. Iranian cinema has a long tradition of introducing an element of ‘production’ to the narrative, as a counterpoint to the story’s transactions. This is especially the case with the early defining works delivered by Abbas Kiarostami; The Last Step furthers it.
“I can’t even recall your face,” declares a woman who could be in mourning, if Marlene Dietrich was her style inspiration. As she repeats the words, the edits in the same camera set-up are obvious even as she finding herself struggling through laughter that feels painfully close to tears. Only when a voice calls “cut!” is it clear that Leili (Leila Hatami) is an actress, and that her latest role unintentionally comments on the death of her husband, Koshrow. That moment could be in the past or the future – editing, like emotion, makes such decisions flexible – but the impact is now.
Some commentaries on the cinema are self-serving or coldly abrupt, but The Last Step has a melancholic, lived-in quality. This is only Mosaffa’s second film as a director – following 2005’s Portrait of a Lady Far Away, which also dealt with the explication of death via film – but he catches the domestic exchanges and unheralded moments that can define a marriage and the two lives that comprise it. Koshrow and Leili have grown apart, to the point of annoyance and anger on her part, even as he regrets not being able to persuade her to have a child.
Leila Hatami has shot to prominence since the release a year ago of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, and there is something about the contours of her face – she has high, expressive cheekbones – that strikes a note of solemn believability when her features are marshaled by a hijab. Leili has chosen Koshrow over Amin (Alireza Aghakhani) years before at the onset of adulthood, but when he returns from Germany to care of his ailing mother, the successful doctor tugs at her affection even as he counsels Koshrow over a possible diagnosis of a serious illness.
Despite the compact running time, the tone can be discursive, although Mosaffa ultimately draws the pieces together in setting up the story’s crux, even if he doesn’t resolve it. Koshrow’s best design was his own home, which was perfect apart from one minor, but ultimate, flaw, and the same applies to his marriage. The Last Step doesn’t make those links explicitly clear, but they suggest themselves even as the deceased narrator tries to hold onto the final days of his life, and it’s difficult not to be taken with these melancholic connections.
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