Meaning proves elusive in Ala Eddine Slim’s oblique narrative feature debut that serves as a timely commentary on the current immigration crisis. Depicting the travails of a young man attempting to emigrate from Tunisia, The Last of Us eschews dialogue and narration, instead relying on stunning visuals to compensate for its skimpy narrative. Recently showcased at New Directors/New Films, this feature will likely be too esoteric even for adventurous art house audiences, but it definitely signals the director as a talent to watch.

The central character, dubbed “N” (Jawhar Doudani) in the credits, is first seen walking through the desert with a companion (Jihed Fourti). The two men wind up being smuggled in the back of a truck, but become separated after the vehicle is attacked by armed assailants. N steals a boat and journeys alone into the Mediterranean, only to land in a dense forest. Suffering a severe leg wound as a result of falling into a trap, he encounters a mysterious older figure (Fathi Akkari), clad in animal furs, who treats his injury. As the two men form a survivalist bond, N more and more comes to resemble the old man, to the point that it becomes apparent that we may be watching two versions of the same character.

With its mystical storyline weighed down with symbolic and allegorical elements, The Last of Us isn’t sufficiently resonant to reward the viewer’s patience. It’s most successful in terms of conveying the harsh physical challenges endured by its protagonist and the varied landscapes through which he travels. But the minimalist characters and situations prove too ambiguous to sustain interest over the course of its feature-length running time. The deliberately unhurried pacing and blank slate-style approach feels redolent of another cinematic era, one in which the film might have held appeal in midnight screenings, with its allure enhanced by illicit substances. Shorn of such trappings, however, the cinematic experiment merely feels pretentious.

Production companies: Exit Productions, Inside Productions, SVP
Cast: Fathi Akkari, Jahwar Soudani
Director-screenwriter-editor: Ala Eddine Slim
Producers: Chawki Knis, Kamel Laaridhi, Mohamed Ismil Louati
Director of photography: Amine Mesadi
Costume designer: Rahma Ben Thayer
Composer: Tarek Louati
Venue: New Directors/New Films

95 minutes