'One Last Afternoon' ('La Ultima Tarde'): Film Review

Courtesy of Habana Film Sales

Joel Calero's two-hander about the reunion of a pair of former political activists took the audience and best actor awards at the recent Lima festival.

The wanderings and conversations of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are transplanted to Lima in One Last Afternoon, Joel Calero's long-take record of an afternoon of conversation between two former freedom fighters/political activists/terrorists, depending on your politics. As in Richard Linklater's Before trilogy, romance is done and discussed, but what's different here is the enormous weight of the past, which bears down on the characters' every utterance. What is actually just a lengthy conversation becomes an intriguing exploration of the crushing effects of political engagement on personal lives, years down the line, and as such One Last Afternoon feels like a natural for politically themed fests and sidebars.

Calero's original title for this follow-up to 2012's Dark Sky was Lenin's "The best things about the bourgeoisie are its wine and its women." But presumably, the distributors thought better of that. After 19 years, Ramon (Lucho Caceres) and Laura (Katerina D'Onofrio) are meeting to finalize their divorce. For reasons that are somewhat awkwardly set up, they are forced to wander the streets of Lima waiting for the divorce lawyer to show.

Initially, things between the couple are warm, with Laura chatting merrily away about her new life in advertising, her new boyfriend and her mother's illness, which is why she's come. (Some of the dialogue feels improvised, and is mostly fresh and credible.) Things have gone less well for Ramon, who, in what he feels is self-betrayal, is now selling micro-credits, has two kids and is separated.

The mood changes when Ramon directly asks Laura why she left him, and it emerges that back in the day they were anti-government activists, but of two very different kinds: Ramon was a working-class boy from Cuzco, with a belief in fighting for "the people." while Laura was middle-class, and so presumably only engaged at the intellectual level. Indeed, she no longer understands who "the people" are. The real reason for their split is dramatized in an event which suddenly moves the pace up a gear, and in Ramon's reaction to it, which might be summarized as: "You can take the boy out of the conflict, but you can't take the conflict out of the boy."

To foreign viewers, "anti-government activists" in Peru generally means Shining Path, the Communist collective group through which during the 1980s Abimael Guzman sought to impose on the country the political vision of Mao with terrible, bloody and still reverberating results. The script here is quick to distance Ramon and Laura from such extremes, since that might well destroy sympathy for them in an instant. There are perhaps too few historical specifics mentioned, very few place names or dates, and in this regard the script sidesteps the thorny issue, empathy-wise, of just how much violence Ramon and Laura have "unloaded" (Laura's word) on other human beings in the past.

In Peru, as in many countries, people who have killed still wander the streets, chatting to one another like characters in a Linklater movie, and it's in this that One Last Afternoon transcends its time and place: These characters could be survivors of any formerly violent political group, anywhere.

What can the place be for these men and women, in a society that has changed so radically? Such issues are the real interest of the film. But the performances through which they come are nuanced and deft enough — D'Onofrio hyperactive, sometimes to the point of hysteria; Caceres hard done by, weighed down even in his gestures — to prevent things ever from becoming preachy or over-literal. (Caceres took the best actor award at the recent Lima festival.) The real tragedy for Lucho, as Laura reminds him, is that he hasn't changed. But change doesn't come easy for a working-class boy from Cuzco, and however many times Laura tells Ramon, "It doesn't matter anymore," the fact remains that for some people, of course, the past always matters.

Production companies: Factoria Sur Producciones, Bhakti Films
Cast: Lucho Caceres, Katerina D’Onofrio
Director-screenwriter: Joel Calero
Producer: Carolina Denegri
Executive producers: Joel Calero, Carolina Herrera
Director of photography: Mario Bassino
Production designer: Gisella Ramirez
Costume designer: Jazmin Perea
Editor: Roberto Benavides
Music: Karin Zielinski
Sales: Habanero Film Sales

Not rated, 81 minutes

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