The Last Face by Sean Penn is a love story on a background humanitarian action, awkwardly mixing romance and war scenes and bloody chaos in Africa.
The Last face is mixing personal history and global history, bringing to life a romance between two humanitarian doctors, devoted body and soul to their mission, amid refugee camps, bloody battle, amputation (filmed in detail), to the sound of chaos and explosions. Too risky a bet for Sean Penn’s talent? The discomfort begins before the first images when the screen displays a preliminary oddity on corruption of innocence: for the Westerners to understand the brutal wars in Liberia and Southern Sudan, they must imagine the tearing of an impossible love between a man and a woman…
Passion amid the dangers of the jungle
Wren Petersen (Charlize Theron) is the daughter of Dr. Petersen, founder of Medecins du Monde, an NGO which she inherited on the death of his father. In war-torn Liberia, she met in Monrovia Dr. Miguel Leon (Javier Bardem), another humanitarian doctor. As the situation is deteriorating as the fights are closing by, Wren announces the departure of the NGO from Monrovia. They travel by road with Dr. Love (Jean Reno), while her cousin, Ellen (Adèle Exarchopoulos) prefers to stay, trusting the UN to evacuate her. During the tragic journey that will take them to Sierra Leone through the dangerous jungle, Wren and Miguel fall passionately in love with each other.
The reality of refugee camps
Through the documentary side of the film, The Last Face has the merit of taking us closer to the reality of refugee camps and war, to the chaos in African countries torn by war. However, the back and forth through flashbacks between the encounter in a combat zone and the reunion in Geneva of the two lovers, are rather poorly orchestrated and confusing, despite Charlize Theron’s character’s voice over telling what we have to understand. Many things ring hollow: the soppy lines of the lovers, their conventional political positions, Charlize Theron always dapper, even in hell, as well as her address about humanity… Only the shallow depth of field of the camera, giving blurred part of the scenes, brings an artistic touch to this laborious work.
Praiseworthy substance but clumsy form
Sean Penn, true to his humanitarian ideals, has the good intention to bring attention and support to distressed populations from an Africa the media focuse very little on. But if the groind is commendable, the form is awkward… But, how not to be shocked to see a little girl in a refugee camp who fills a can of Coke with water from a mud puddle and Miguel who has laughter of derision when he finds the water running from the shower in his hotel in Geneva.
If there is one scene to keep from this film, which is “true”, emotionally charged, it is the care given in the jungle to an injured refugee: while doctor Love sutures her wound in the neck, Miguel helped by Wren, give birth to her baby via caesarean section, at the “green” glow of their headlamps so as not to be spotted by fighters on the lookout. A moving and breathtaking scene.
The Last Face de Sean Penn
Compétition – 2h12
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