Experiment in Narrative: "The Last Step"

in 47th Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by Nil Kural

Iran is recognized for its strong filmmaking, great masters and skillful storytellers. That is why Iranian cinema remains in the spotlight, especially for viewers who see cinema as an art form. The winner of the FIPRESCI Prize in Karlovy Vary this year is The Last Step (Pele akher). This is the second feature film directed and written by Iranian actor Ali Mosaffa. As with last year’s celebrated A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin), we are reminded of the universality of Iranian film.

The film has a complicated narrative and follows a nonlinear timeline; it opens on a film set with an actress named Leili (played by Leila Hatami, the international star of A Separation.) Leili recites the line “I cannot recall your face” but does not succeed in finishing the scene because she can’t stop laughing. This line about memory is important since the film is about memories of a marriage. However, our guide on this complex journey is not Leili but her deceased husband Koshrow (played by Mosaffa).

Koshrow is the narrator and owner of the voiceover; at the beginning of the film he informs the audience that he is dead. From his perspective we follow his marriage to Leili and get to know our “dead narrator” through his sincere voiceover. We also witness the interfering actions of Koshrow’s childhood friend Amin (Alireza Aghakhani), a doctor who has returned to Iran after many years.

The Last Step is a film which needs close attention from the audience. This is a rare quality, since many films these days are designed for viewers who do not pay much attention. But once we give this film the concentration it deserves, the perfectly planned screenplay opens up, step by step.

The film is about the complexity and fragility of human relationships; its labyrinth-like structure resembles the dead man’s memory and his reflection on these themes. The structure of the film is rooted in the narrative experiments of the French New Wave. It does not belong to the tradition of the Iranian masters who have made spectacular examples of slow cinema and minimalism. Nor is it one of those overtly “political” films that Iran is famous for. The Last Step depends on well-written dialogue and a carefully planned use of voiceover; its style and narrative complexity are reminiscent of 1960s European cinema.

The Last Step features brilliant performances from its actors. Leila Hatami plays her character beautifully: sometimes on the verge of breakdown, sometimes angry, occasionally with hidden melancholy. This is a film narrated by a dead man; it tells a heartbreaking story but manages not to neglect humor.