In THE LAST TO SEE THEM, which had its North American Premiere at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival, looks inside a rural farmhouse in Southern Italy on the day we know a terrible crime will happen.
Director Sara Summa’s feature debut THE LAST TO SEE THEM, with the Italian title, “Gli Ultimi Viderli Vivere”, translates to “The Last to See Them Alive,” is also in the title of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” in the heading of the first chapter. The type of setting that both of these stories use is a remote farmhouse that introduces a father, mother, son and daughter. We also know that they will all soon die because the director tells us that at the beginning in text. This opening tells us that one day in 2012, the members of the Durati family were murdered and then only having this knowledge, we watch these family members go about their day, in a beautiful olive tree farm on what would be their last day alive. But the question to this is why were they murdered?
Everyone is busy with their own agenda for the day. The father, Renzo (Canio Lancellotti) is doing office work. The mother, Alice (Donatello Viola) is laying down with a headache. The son, Matteo (Pasquale Lioi) is working hard to finish a wooden chest for his eldest sister who is getting married and who we never see. The busiest person, teenage Dora (Barbara Verrastro) helps a friend’s daughter make a ricotta cake, takes phone call after phone call, has a date with her boyfriend and all the while making her sister’s bridesmaids dresses and other things for the wedding.
As a first feature, it does have some remarkable qualities. Katharine Schelling’s cinematography is tight and restrained. Certain scenes are repeated from different perspectives and angles in the edit which seems to speak to the cinematic use of time. However, we are not told very much on what’s to happen to the Durati family. We wonder why such mundane actions are worth our time watching them. We do not know the motive of the killer nor are we given any indication that one of the family members has done something wrong to deserve this. The notion of suspense relies on the viewer or audience to know something the characters do not know (“Hey, there’s a killer by the door”) and Summa’s film experiment is an interesting one: can she make us care for this family even with us knowing what is expected at the end? It’s not a new idea. One film that does this brilliantly is Fruitvale Station, which shows the last day in someone’s life and has so much poignancy and pity. However, we are not made to feel for these characters the same way. Of course, they do have issues, but it does not follow the standard rule for a narrative which is conflict followed by resolution. Sadly, THE LAST TO SEE THEM doesn’t make for really interesting cinema.
What is the message that Summa is trying to tell us? To deal with our issues before we die? Why does it matter if the murder was inevitable? I’m not sure, to be honest. Lasting 79 minutes, this narrative is very stretched out but I believe this would be tighter and more engaging if it was a lengthy short film. It would have made it tenser in a shorter period of time and it would still keep all the notes the director seemed to want.