Friday, January 14, 2011
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea - La Ultima Cena aka The Last Supper (1976)
This scathing black comedy from Cuban satirist Tomás Gutiérrez Alea is a dish that's bitter to taste and hard to stomach. It's an intricate and uncompromising fable that alarmingly boasts an authentic historical model.In the 18th century, the wealthy owner of a sprawling Havana sugar plantation gives in to a misguided whim. As Holy Week approaches, he decides to host his own Last Supper, appointing himself as Christ and a dozen downtrodden slaves as the apostles. Held on Maundy Thursday, his re-enactment is a precarious proposition from the outset. At first, it offers Alea ample opportunity for comedy, as the pompous master cleans and flinchingly kisses the feet of the bemused slaves before taking to the table.During the lavish meal itself the master shamelessly dishes out self-righteous rhetoric while his slaves throw themselves upon their food. Facing their intermittent recriminations, he resorts to nonsensical logic to explain the social structure of the plantation.
The majority of Alea's picture takes place at the dinner table. As such, The Last Supper is predominantly a conversation piece. However, the impact of the meal reverberates on Good Friday when the slaves rebel, holding their demonic overseer hostage. The revolt incurs the wrath of their master, who unleashes the dogs and orders his 'apostles' beheaded. Alea's hitherto measured pace here swiftly escalates towards a chilling, violent denouement played out to a cacophony of crazed drumbeats and impassioned chants.The spirit of Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel hangs in the air throughout this multifaceted allegory, as Alea sets up and swiftly shoots down a number of targets. Boasting distinctive performances across the board, The Last Supper offers a thought-provoking meditation on masterhood and servitude, freedom and bondage. The film's title sequence, in which Alea picks out various details of an impressive canvas, pre-empts the director's painterly framings and his palette of delicate colours. (Chris Wiegand)