'The Last Suit' ('El último traje'): Film Review

A sentimental journey with some potholes in the road.

Pablo Solarz's dramedy sends an Argentine Holocaust survivor on one last big voyage.

An all-but-forgotten promise takes on new importance in The Last Suit, Pablo Solarz's tale of an elderly Jew trying to get back to the home in Poland he fled seven decades ago. An engaging performance by veteran Argentine actor Miguel Angel Sola is the main selling point here, helping put across some, but not all, of the story's more dubious developments. Though it may make a decent showing at art houses in cities with large Jewish communities, the Spanish-language import will attract most of its audience on video.

Sola plays Buenos Aires oldster Abraham Bursztein, who is surrounded by loving family members (and one greedy granddaughter he has to bribe to take a picture with him) on an occasion that proves less happy than it appears: His daughters are selling his house and forcing Dad into a retirement home. After a bit of ineffectual grousing, Abraham convinces his family to let him spend one more night alone as a goodbye to his home of so many decades — then sneaks off as soon as they're gone, hunting down a clandestine after-hours travel agent and informing her that he needs to fly to Poland now. He has to settle for a roundabout itinerary with an initial layover in Spain. In a scene accompanied by a mischievous klezmer-tinged score, we watch Bursztein board that long flight and use some funny reverse-psychology to get a whole row of seats to himself.

This is the first of many scenes requiring our hero to use age and frailty to his advantage (Sola has ample geezer charms); and while it's unfortunately the most amusing of them, the encounters to come do keep the picaresque film diverting while it builds toward its intended drama. In occasional flashbacks, we see both the vibrant Jewish social world Abraham enjoyed as a child and the horrors the war inflicted: Near starvation after his time in Nazi camps, he stumbled back to the house he grew up in and was turned away, getting help only from one young acquaintance. That's the man Abraham hopes to see now, before he dies.

A fair bit of narrative contrivance (convenient hassles with immigration officials; a robbery that leads to a family reunion) is required to keep this story moving, but at first the road-trippy interactions with strangers keep us entertained. First and best of the extended episodes is one with a Spanish innkeeper (a wry, sexy Angelina Molina) who, though immune to Abraham's romantic overtures, keeps him company during his hours in Madrid.

The closer we get to Lodz, though, the more the film needs to remind us why Abraham dreads this trip so much. "Do you know the history ... what happened to Jews in Europe?!" he asks one official. It's a safe bet that everyone in the theater knows, but Solarz's script occasionally throws dramatic momentum aside to remind us. Some of the psychological difficulties the old man encounters on the trip are well dramatized; others are maudlin or condescending to the viewer.

By its third act, it's clear that Last Suit fits into a familiar happy-goodbye format, whatever its darker notes, and that plausibility isn't high on its list of concerns. At least the company's mostly good.

Production companies: Zampa Audiovisual, Rescate Producciones, Tornasol Films
Distributor: Outsider Pictures
Cast: Miguel Angel Sola, Angelina Molina, Martin Piroyansky, Natalia Verbeke, Julia Beerhold, Olga Boladz, Jan Mayzel
Director-Screenwriter: Pablo Solarz
Producers: Mariela Besuievsky, Juan Pablo Galli, Gerardo Herrero
Executive producers: Julia Di Veroli, Juan Lovece
Director of photography: Juan Carlos Gomez
Production designer: Federico Garcia Cambero
Costume designer: Montse Sancho
Editor: Antonio Frutos
Composer: Federico Jusid
Casting director: Camilla-Valentine Isola

In Spanish
88 minutes