It’s easy to dismiss a movie like “Last Love” as lightweight and forgettable. It’s not loud or showy nor is it anything new or profound. It’s a movie that you will either latch onto and enjoy or fail to connect with and be utterly bored. Sometimes we get movies like that – films that you either connect with or you don’t. I definitely connected with this 2013 drama written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck. It also goes by the title of “Mr. Morgan’s Last Love”, but regardless of what you want to call it, it’s an intimate and earnest examination of lost love, fractured families, and the will to live.
The story’s initial plot point puts the film somewhere in between Pixar’s “Up” and Michael Haneke’s “Amour” (a sharp contrast, I know). The great Michael Caine plays a retired philosophy professor named Matthew Morgan. In the film’s first scene we see him sitting at the bedside of his deceased wife in their Paris apartment. Three years pass and Matthew has fallen into a suicidal state of depression. But his life takes an enigmatic turn when he meets a compassionate young Parisian woman named Pauline (Clémence Poésy). She adds a new element to his life that he can’t define. The two strike up a sweet relationship that could potentially fill the overcast voids in their lives.
“Last Love” is based on Francoise Dorner’s novel “La Douceur Assassine”. Nettelbeck’s adaption takes several creative liberties that adds new dimensions while still capturing the charm of the book. Her film is slow-moving and unfolds at a pace that may not suit some people. It worked for me mainly due to the two main characters. I truly cared about Matthew and Pauline and I was drawn to their unlikely relationship. The two share similar feelings of isolation and loneliness and each see things in the other that they want. It’s both lovely and gloomy. It’s desperate and hopeful.
As you would expect, Michael Caine is fabulous. He gives a sincere and nuanced performance that is capped with a stinging realism. He demands an emotional commitment from the audience. Caine makes us feel for him and hope his situation improves. But things get worse when Matthew’s two kids arrive from America to check up on him. His son Miles (Justin Kirk) is a smug jerk who is clearly harboring anger from a past experience. Matthew’s daughter Karen (Gillian Anderson) is a self-absorbed and disrespectful snot who feels inconvenienced by having to check on her father. Both Kirk and Anderson are very good and they add a whole new layer to Matthew’s state of being.
But for me, the most captivating performance came from Clémence Poésy. The versatile French actress is essential to the story’s effectiveness. We learn a few details about her character but in many other ways she is a mystery. Her compassion and exuberance are intoxicating but they mask a deeper yearning. In some ways Poésy gives us a character just as sad as Matthew. She is such a good actress and she is the one asked to navigate the trickier character developments. She does so with ease.
“Last Love” is a poignant film about lost souls desperate to plug holes in their lives. It’s charming, sweet, somber, and heartbreaking. Now it does dip its toes into the pool of sentimentality on a few occasions. I’m also struggling with my feelings about the film’s ending. There’s no twist or ambiguity. I’m just not sure how I feel about it. But I do know that I really liked this film. I was unquestionably drawn to the characters, I loved the Paris setting, and the heartfelt story carried me through till the end. This was a small 2013 film seen by few, but it caught my eye and I’m glad it did.