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Back to Life

Another-end-movie-review-gael-garcía-bernal
Matteo Casilli/Indigo Film

MOVIE REVIEW
Another End (2024)

Reanimating the dead in movies – such as in “All of Us Strangers” – is mainly done in order to provide emotional closure, of a kind, for the living. This is always seen from the point of view from those left behind, who want something from the dead that they are willing to go to any lengths to receive, and which appears to be catnip for audiences with their own dead to bury. But as “Another End” lumbers on you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on what this means for those people brought back, the ones who cannot rest in peace. It’s hard to think of something more horrific than the idea that your loved ones might attempt to keep your soul alive for their own purposes even after you’re gone. No one is supposed to think this is a metaphor for artificial intelligence that only tells you want you want to hear. No, this is supposed to be romantic! Or normal! But not every human longing ought to be fulfilled; and not every movie with a sharp aesthetic and a superb international cast ought to be supported.

Sal (Gael García Bernal) lives in an apartment in a futuristic city. He has a dead partner, Zoe, and a sister, Ebe (Bérénice Bejo), who works for a company that takes the memories of the dead and implants them into the bodies of living hosts for brief periods so that the grieving can have more time with them. After some persuasion from Ebe, Sal decides for Zoe to undergo the process, so a host is found (Renate Reinsve) and their extended time begins. It’s a reverse “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” with the creepiness of “Dark City” and heavy borrowings from the TV show “Dollhouse.” The important thing is that “Zoe” cannot know she is dead or else the mind meld doesn’t work with the host body, or something. So instead Zoe putters around the apartment, drinking coffee and showing off her legs as she and Sal argue over ordinary couple stuff.

The movie was filmed in Paris, with an eye for brutalism instead of beauty and just enough C.G.I. to make the place seem futuristic, but most of the actors are British, including the elderly Scottish neighbor through whom the concept of the host bodies is introduced, as well as upstairs neighbor Juliette (Olivia Williams), who has managed to have both her husband and her daughter restored to her, since her husband doesn’t know her daughter killed them both in a fire. This is quite a set of neighbors, but we are given to understand this experience, while expensive, is simply an ordinary part of life now. This concept is gross and invasive even before Sal is told Zoe’s host is unable to bear any further sessions and he begins stalking her around the city. He finds her in a nightclub gorgeously styled to look like the bottom of the ocean; and it’s here that director Piero Messina (who cowrote the script with Giacomo Bendotti, Valentina Gaddi and Sebastiano Melloni) should have pivoted the script in one of a different billion ways instead of the basic and misogynistic one that he chose.

It's impossible to explain why without spoilers, but suffice to say that a really boring amount of interpersonal cliches are thrown about in the back third of the movie. (A male pole dancer does feature, but that’s not enough.) The dreary concrete-gray tone of the pan-European city – Sal and Ebe speak Spanish with each other – does such strong work to create a mood of thwarted longing that it’s a shame the plot is so unworthy of everything around it. Mr. García Bernal has been one of the world’s most consistently interesting and excellent actors for his entire career, and yet his haunted, introspective performance simply cannot stand up to the final plot twist (which is so badly handled a large portion of the Berlinale audience thought the movie was over and starting walking out before what transpired to be a final scene). Ms. Reinsve has less to do here than anyone who’s seen “The Worst Person in the World” knows she’s capable of, but it’s on her shoulders to make the movie not feel like into skin-crawling horror; and she absolutely delivers. Unfortunately the way in which cinematographer Fabrizio La Palombara films her makes it clear this is a boy’s own fantasy about how it’s easier to talk to girls if they’re in a hot body you get to control. It’s a repellent concept not remotely redeemed by the other plot twist, the one which adds a further insulting layer of bitches-be-crazy to the entire thing. Why take an idea this complex and reduce it to something this banal?

Well, because grief is self-centered; and people in pain focus on their pain; and it’s seen as cruel to try to draw someone out into the world of the living before they are ready. But none of that changes the fact that the idea that your loved ones will deliver what you require from them even after death is profoundly disturbing. Back in 2002 the novel “The Lovely Bones” became a surprise smash hit because of its concept that a child who died violently could encourage her family to grow and heal in healthy ways from the afterlife, a concept that struck a nerve in the aftermath of 9/11 (and which was not handled super well in the 2009 movie). Twenty-odd years later either society has become so selfish we demand the dead’s physical presence by any means necessary, or people have become so overwhelmed by grief that no one can bear to face the world as it is anymore. Undoubtedly the truth is somewhere in the middle, but this still doesn’t make “Another End” a good movie. It’s a cup of curdled milk, something only the most desperate person would attempt to drink. And art that merely enables grief instead of encouraging the grieving to find their way back to life is sour indeed.

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