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Cannes 2016: The Last Face Review

By  · Published on May 23rd, 2016

We Found The Worst Film at Cannes 2016

Sean Penn’s The Last Face is the kind of film that shouldn’t exist.

It wouldn’t be the Cannes Film Festival without one big stinker. Following in the footsteps of Sea of Trees, this year’s disaster comes in the form of Sean Penn’s The Last Face.

The Last Face is a film that should not exist. There is not a single thing about this film that makes logical sense on paper. The idea that someone would even give Penn the money to make this film is inexcusable. Yes, The Last Face is one giant misstep in the odyssey of cinematic history.

The film falters right from the opening title cards that open it. Over the map of Africa, words appear on the screen describing the disturbed state of Liberia and Sudan in crisis. No problems so far. Then a title appears letting the audience know that the film is a love story, “between a man…and a woman”. Yes, Penn has decided to use war-torn Africa as his entrance into the romance of a bunch of white people. Charlize Theron stars as Wren, a doctor about to make a speech at a charity gala. Cue a series of never-ending flashbacks to detail Wren’s love affair with fellow doctor Miguel (Javier Bardem). The flashbacks take us to a group of foreign-aid workers in Africa, led by Miguel. Wren comes to join the team, which also includes Dr. John Farber (Mad Men’s Jared Harris) and Dr. Love (Jean Reno). While making their way through the Sudanese war grounds Miguel and Wren quickly fall into a relationship composed of sex, screaming, performing surgeries, and soft-focus close-ups.

It is just astounding that Penn actually expects an audience to care about any of these people. Not only are all the characters completely shallow, they have unclear motivations and are downright unlikeable. At the film’s first Cannes screening, the press audience jeered their way through the highs and lows of the Wren/Miguel tirade. The audience even letting out hushed snickers of laughter as Wren’s cousin revealed that she slept with Miguel and possibly gave him HIV.

It is really hard to take a film like this seriously when it is so obvious that Penn is trying so damn hard. Even at its best, The Last Face feels like a World Vision commercial spliced into a bad episode of The Young and the Restless. It is quite surprising that the notoriously political Penn has nothing political to say here. It’s almost offensive how much Penn exploits the struggles of the African nation to further the emotional highs and lows of his character’s love life.

Bad acting and direction aside, the fallacy of The Last Face begins and ends with the screenplay. Written by Erin Dignam – yes, the most poorly penned female lead in a festival full of incredible female roles was written by a woman – the screenplay features a series of wonderfully pathetic one-liners that add a jolt of unwarranted humour into the overly-serious film. Theron is gifted with the scenery chewing “What is wrong with you people!” But it is Jean Reno’s Dr. Love who wins the worst line of the year award with a perfectly over-delivered “It’s not graaabing…it’s loooving!”

Read More: Cannes 2016 Coverage

All of this cinematic misfortune would at least be somewhat forgivable if it was all in good fun. This is not the case. It is not the kind of awful film that is fun to watch – a la The Room. The many laughs do not come from the film’s over-the-top seriousness, but rather the discomfort forced onto the viewer while watching such an excruciatingly painful work. It is with great confidence that I can say that The Last Face is not only the worst film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but one of the worst films ever made. At this time the film does not have North American distribution, so our lucky readers may never have to see it.

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Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films.