Monday, August 02, 2010

The Last Theft – review

DVD set
Director: Jirí Barta

First released: 1987

Contains spoilers

The Last Theft, or Poslední Lup, is a short film – roughly 20 minutes in length and is by Czech director Jirí Barta – who is known for his animations. This film is odd, therefore, as Barta used live action but filmed it using various techniques that made it seem, in parts, like an animation. This offers the film a jerkiness and whilst the description might seem negative it is anything but. The film has an otherworldly quality mixed with Gothic sensibilities that offers a palpable atmosphere and a feel that the film has stepped out of a time long gone – though the final scene confirms we are in a contemporary world. The film does all this without a single line of dialogue.

I am afraid that I am going to completely spoil this – though the pay off is spoilt already, given that I am reviewing the short.

breaking in
The film starts with a thief scaling a gate. He heads to a doorway and works the locks of what, at this point, we believe to be a house. Soon he is in. Through the doorway there is a coat and he reaches into a pocket and finds a golden coin that sparkles. He pockets it. He takes a clock and then goblets from a dusty shelf. Pulling on a draw causes it to jerk out, crashing to the floor. He scoops the cutlery up.

nothing in the mirror
A chest reveals pearl necklaces and a cupboard contains furs. In one is another pearl necklace that falls to the floor, spilling pearls. He crawls after the pearls, picking them up. We see him crawl in a mirror towards a table. Under the table he sees legs, remember gentle reader we saw nothing in the mirror… ahh… he looks up and sees a macabre family sat around.

the little girl pokes the thief
There is an older lady and gentleman as well as a younger lady and gentleman. They all have stacks of money before them and appear to be playing dice. Their skin is pallid grey and dark circles shadow the eyes. A young child stands next to him and, good naturedly, pokes him. The older lady invites him to join them at the table. He does.

family members
He throws the dice and rolls 6s. The family give him money and then they play and the thief cannot loose. His round face becomes flush, counterpointed wonderfully against the greyness of the family. He wins more and more. The young woman feeds him alcohol and he becomes quickly drunk. A cigar is put in his mouth.

fed grapes
He is taken to a bathroom and pampered. He is bathed, manicured and shaved. The little girl drops a melon, smashing it, but the old man who shaves him has a hand so steady that he is not nicked. He is given a nightdress and taken to a bedroom. Alone with the young lady he is fed grapes and then we hear him scream.

the machine
We see the rest of the family enter the room with a mechanical device on a trolley. The thief is tied to the bed. The old man comes up to him and puts a cannula into his arm. The older woman, dressed as a nurse, starts to use the machine, pumping the peddles and blood is drawn from the thief.

fangs revealed
We see his face turn grey as the blood is drawn. The blood is put into bottles and the little girl smiles to the camera. Her gummy grin has only two teeth and they sharpen into fangs. If we did not know before, with the mirror and the cadaverous complexions of the family, we now know what they are. A cock crows.

The old man starts a machine off and everything descends on a lift, through a trap in the floor, revealing the mausoleum they are in and statues of the family. Memorials perhaps. The camera pulls out and we realise it was no house but a crypt in a graveyard. An ambulance drives by as the film finishes.

Now, I know I have spoilt this entirely but I hope I have conveyed some of the atmosphere I felt as I watched the film. It is well worth catching for yourself and I have watched through the short several times now and it never ceases to impress. 8 out of 10. The imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

Wow, you're on a bit of a roll with all these fascinating foreign and/or independent films!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Don't worry, the normal programming of low budget, shot on video camera rubbish will recommence soon ;) lol

Gabriel said...


One more vampire movie to hunt down!

I have to say though that vampire movies NEED to be surreal like this - contain an otherwordliness about them where the world is just a slightly off centre, like we experience in Jean Rollin films, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Lemora, this film and so forth.

Don't you find if the vampire film possesses this quality then for some reason it improves the atmosphere and makes the viewing experience much greater?

It's similar also to how in Dracula, Harker walks into a the vampires world, and physics don't follow the rules: Shadows move in a different directions, water drips upward and so forth? I love it!

House of Karnstein said...

not many more gems out there for hardcore vampheads (like the 3 of us) to discover and yes there is a vast sea of bunk sov ;)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Gabe and HofK

I have to say that even the worst vamp-film has some form of merit (it has a vampire in it?!?) but, seriously, amongst the more amatuerish films a gem will suddenly appear.

Gabe I like your Harker analogy and I think you are on to something generally, but I also love a film with an otherworldly quality without a vampire. I think it is down to the director. If they can do otherworldly then it works, no matter the subject but it is a bonus for me if it contains a vampire.

If they can't do otherworldly then the film will likely fail no matter the focus.

Zahir Blue said...

Not to beat an (un)dead horse too often, I personally feel a sense of unworldly is essential to a good adaptation of LeFanu's "Carmilla."

Consider this a hint as to what is coming in the mail for you. heh heh

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir - your not wrong, a friend once conceptualised a version of it based around the qabbalah tree of life and it was a rather good concept at that.

I suspect I know what is in the post and have a little wry grin at the thought thereof.