From brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, Les Dernier jours du monde finds Robinson (Mathieu Amalric, who I also saw this year in Les Herbes folles), in Biarritz in the southwest of France, trying to write the story of how he met Laetitia (Omahyra), a beautiful woman he first saw on the beach. Told in flashbacks and played out across the world in France, Taiwan, and Canada, we see the growth of Robinson's obsession with Laetitia until she finally disappears once and for all.
Meanwhile, in the present, the planet is slowly falling apart. An environmental catastrophe is but the catalyzing event that seems to be leading to general anarchy, with disease, terrorist acts, and even nuclear explosions the order of the day. As society begins to disintegrate, Robinson, now separated from his wife Chloé, decides to head out to join his daughter in Bilbao. But on the way he is reminded of Laetitia, and decides to seek her out to try and spend what days are left in her arms. His quest takes him across Spain and France as civilization takes its last gasps of air in its final death throes.
As I watched this film, it brought to mind Wim Wenders' Bis ans Ende der Welt (Until the End of the World), another film set in the days leading up to an apocalypse. In Les Dernier jours du monde, one of the most fascinating parts of The Larrieu brothers' world is the slow impending sense of doom, and how it affects everyone differently. Some despair and commit suicide, others take it as license to go out in a bacchanalian blaze of glory. People abandon relationships to have one last taste of freedom, while others are drawn closer to the ones they love. This conflict is played out in a very personal sense in Robinson and those he meets along the way in his quest to find Laetitia, and Mathieu Amalric does a good job of playing out Robinson's emotions in both the past and the present. I was also intrigued on their visualization of how the world might end, not in one single cataclysmic event, but in a series of events building on one another until the world finally falls apart under the weight of it all.
Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu were present for a Q&A after the film. I wasn't able to transcribe all the answers because of the sound system in the Ryerson.
- The film is adapted from a 600-page novel written by one of the directors' former professors. The novel was written in the 1990's but set in 2010, and they moved it up to the present year.
- Despite the impending end of the world, they wanted to show that life still went on.
- There are two stories in the novel, and they took the frame of the novel, and slightly changed the character of Robinson, who was a bit of a loser in the novel and had no wife or child.
- Someone asked if all the characters were comfortable with the nudity in the film, and they replied that one actress, Catherine Frot is one of the few who doesn't have any nudity in the film, and they shot a landscape instead. Omahyra is a model, so was comfortable. Karin Viard early in her career turned down a role because she had to show her breasts, but after later seeing how that film turned out, she decided she would be more free in the future.
- They shot in Pamplona in Spain. For Saragossa they shot in Tarragona in Catalonia, and they didn't change the city in the script because it didn't sound quite the same in the dialogue. The hotel the characters travel to in the middle of the film is not actually a hotel; it's a mix of a monastery and some other places. The train station for Toulouse was actually shot in Barcelona. The shots of Canada were actually shot in the Pyrenees.
- It was a complicated shoot, but they wanted those complications. They wanted a road movie that travelled to those places. It was hard when you want to shoot the end of the world in places where life is currently going on. The worst was shooting Paris at night. The preparation was actually more difficult than the shoot, which took 66 days for the film.