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Suddenly, in Beirut, bodies begin to appear, drained of blood, with two small punctures near the jugular. They are brought to forensic expert and family physician Khalil Shams (Carlos Chahine) for autopsy. A tall and attractive single man, keen on scuba-diving, he has just returned to work after convalescing from an illness. As the deaths pile up, he begins to experience increasingly strange physical symptoms, including bouts of pain and fever. Before long, he finds himself roaming the streets of Beirut at night, impelled by a sinister compulsion for blood. In film, Beirut has served as the setting for many a fiction, but never before has it been home to a vampire murder mystery. Less focused on the story of the murders or the police investigation, The Last Man's dramatic charge emanates from the muted horror of a man witnessing himself transform into a monster-an experience all too familiar in a society recovering from civil war. Director Salhab borrows the mythology of vampirism to illuminate poetically, allegorically and philosophically how individuals internalize violence and how their subjectivity gradually mutates as a result. The vampire figure is moreover a being, beyond representation, that eludes death-the opposite of the war martyrs whose photographs hang in Beirut's homes, and whose executioners may roam the city's streets. Carlos Chahine's stellar performance carries to exquisite measure the brooding, entrancing, slow pace, while the film's cinematography is remarkable: rarely has Beirut been filmed in winter, and even more rarely has its magical Levantine light been captured with such finesse.
Director's Statement Collapse
A process of transformation, an irreversible process, is underway at the heart of a city that is itself undergoing considerable change. Beirut, the cinematographic realm, the central body of nearly all my films since my first feature, Beyrouth Fantme; Beirut where a slight fissure threatens to become a gaping abyss; Beirut where things are continuously being done and undone, to quote Samuel Beckett. Khalil is perhaps a metaphor for Beirut, but he is above all a product of the city. He is a child of Beirut. We could even say that Beirut, a mutant city, has given birth to a mutant. But isnt it intrinsic to any large metropolis to create all kinds of mutants? All these passers by, all these strangers, even ourselves, arent we also potential mutants? Beneath the blanket of social order, every great city hides its monsters as best as it can; monsters that often hide from themselves. They dont all necessarily live hidden in the shadows. A mutant doesnt necessarily know that he's a mutant. The fact that the social order has been upturned more than once in Beirut's recent history only facilitates the emergence of all sorts of mutants. I have directly borrowed from the vampire myth of the man who is no longer entirely human (unless he is in fact too human since he feeds on the blood of his fellow men). He is neither truly alive, nor truly dead: He is undead. A sort of ghost. And, in Beirut, there are a lot of ghosts. Ghosts of the past and ghosts of the present. Progressively and irremediably, a man drifts away from his human condition, vanishes from the social world, becomes a ghost, a shadow that even the mirror no longer reflects. It is a process, a pathway marked by solitude that dramatically changes this mans life, casting him, along with the entire film, into the night and its darkness.
Film Information Collapse
About the Director(s)Collapse
GHASSAN SALHAB was born on May 4, 1958 in Dakar, Senegal. Apart from his own films as director, Salhab has worked on a number of screenplays in Lebanon and in France. He teaches at ALBA (Acadmie Libanaise des Beaux Arts) and USEK (Universit Saint Esprit of Kaslik) in Lebanon and has also written a number of articles that have appeared in specialized periodicals. Salhab is a writer/director of feature films, several of which gained festival recognition: Terra incognita (2002) was an official selection at Cannes Film Festival; Beyrouth fantome (1998) was selected for film festivals in Nantes, Göteborg, Carthage, Brugge, Thran and Valencia.