'The Last Resort' ('L'Ultima Spiaggia'): Cannes Review

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A picturesque if often tedious seaside holiday.

Directors Thanos Anastopoulos and Davide Del Degan capture life on an Italian beach.

A peculiar and popular beach club in northeast Italy becomes the setting for a rather laborious ethnographic documentary in The Last Resort (L’Ultima Spiaggia), which premiered in the Special Screenings sidebar of Cannes’ Official Selection.

Directed by the Greek-Italian duo of Thanos Anastopoulos and Davide Del Degan, this mildly intriguing study of an urban seaside resort in the culturally diverse city of Trieste concentrates on the various sunbathers — many of them retirees — who lounge about during the summer season, though it offers up few real insights into their lives. With a two-hour-plus running time that rarely feels justified, the film may find some ardent supporters on the fest circuit but will be a tough sell theatrically.

The directors spent an entire year shooting the century-old La Lanterna beach (or “el Pedocin," as it's nicknamed), chronicling the extremely banal quotidian of an elderly set of Triestini residents who have a certain sentimental attachment to their rundown state institution.

Rather than asking questions or providing useful background details — some of which may have helped us to understand what exactly makes the resort so special — Anastopoulos and Del Degan opted for an entirely hands-off approach that lies somewhere between cinema verite and your grandma’s home videos from Florida.

The most fascinating aspect of the “el Pedocin” is certainly its massive concrete wall separating the men from the women, allowing the former to huddle in groups and complain about the beach chair situation (a constant source of discussion to which the film devotes several scenes), and women of all ages to bathe topless, with some of the oldest ones recalling scattered memories of Italy after the war.

Trieste, which sits just outside Slovenia and Croatia, has a rich ethnic history that is only touched upon in the movie, including a few snippets of post-WWII archive footage and conversations where beachgoers discuss life under Tito (who ruled Yugoslavia for 40 years) or else band together to sing songs in a local slang (called Triestine) that mixes Italian with neighboring dialects.

Yet such inspired moments are few and far between, with Anastopoulos and Del Degan otherwise showing us every dull facet of beach life — such as an entire sequence involving the resort’s clogged toilets — while letting scenes run on for way too long, in a movie that could probably lose an hour of footage and still be as effective.

It’s unfortunate, because the location itself is definitely photogenic, with DPs Ilias Adamis and Debora Vrizzi filming the changing tides and tanned bodies in crisp HD compositions, sometimes diving underwater to shoot scenes Terrence Malick-style.

Such an all-access approach could have turned The Last Resort — whose title suggests this may be the final stop for many of its elderly denizens — into a fascinating glimpse at a people and place on the verge of extinction. Instead, what we get is lots of sea, not quite enough sun and a film that remains so close, yet so far, from the world it’s meant to capture.

Production companies: Mansarda Production, Fantasia Audiovisual, Arizona Production
Directors: Thanos Anastopoulos, Davide Del Degan
Screenwriters: Thanos Anastopoulos, Nicoletta Romeo
Producers: Nicoletta Romeo, Stella Theodorakis, Guillaume de Seille
Directors of photography: Ilias Adamis, Debora Vrizzi
Editors: Bonita Papastathi, Matteo Serman
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings)
Sales agent: Wide House

In Italian, Triestine
135 minutes

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