The Movie Waffler New Release Review - LAST SUMMER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - LAST SUMMER

last summer review
In 1970s Wales, a tragedy impacts the lives of four young boys.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jon Jones

Starring: Noa Thomas, Gruffydd Weston, Rowan Jones, Christopher Benning

last summer poster

All hail Ffilm Cymru!

In the words of parent organisation Arts Council of Wales, Ffilm Cymru’s role is "to develop the film sector in Wales, and maximise the economic, educational and cultural opportunities available through the medium." Cerddoriaeth to the ears, or what? And look at the priorities: capital gain before touchy feely trifles like education and culture (joking aside - they’re amazing at those too). Something I’ve never understood about the right’s argument for cutting arts funding is the sheer amount of bunce involved in a viable and commercial film industry. Ffilm Cymru get it: in certain parts of Cardiff it’s impossible to get to the bar without spilling the pinot grigio of someone or other associated with Ffilm Cymru’s burgeoning influence; actors, crew, marketing, et al. And, ok, the stipulation is that films nurtured by Ffilm Cymru should feature a Welsh element, be it behind the camera or in front of it, but that doesn’t entail a North Korean style monomedia. Look at the programme: I Am Not a Witch, A Dark Song, Being Frank. What a diverse testament to the most creative and exciting country in the world.

last summer review

Mind you, some of the films are by Wales, are significantly about (a certain perception of) Wales and are seemingly just for Wales. Jon JonesLast Summer is such a product. A storiadeiladu set in the rural Wales of the 1970s, we follow a group of lads enjoying the sort of summer holidays you dream of - messing about in the river, endless days - before some adults go and nause it all up by smacking them about the chops with a massive end-of-innocence metaphor. The setting is apposite, as the Welsh countryside has a beauty that is necessarily savage; even our flag is red in tooth and claw. A few minutes in and the kids (13-ish but egged on by an older brother) are tickling trout in the river and then roasting their little fish corpses on a makeshift fire. Few moments after that the cruelty ante is upped when one boy returns home to find his dad has shot his mother to death and then turned the gun on himself. Yikes, indeed (in Wales this sort of trigger-happy-terror is all too commonplace: only the other day a couple of dickheads from Cadw went gun crazy on nesting pigeons in Caerphilly Castle of all places. Shots fired in my manor!).

last summer review

Turns out the dad went postal because his Mrs was having it off with the sheep farmer across the way, a rogue hunk played by Richard Harrington (who resuscitates his Mathias from Hinterland persona here, looking like a man who is attempting to mentally work out the incipient costs of his own funeral). Sex and death, kids. It’s all to come! Henceforth, the film swerves into a back and forth about what is going to happen to the newly orphaned younger kids, and whether the ne’er do-well older lad is going to give Mathias a pasting. In the buttery Welsh sunshine, with surroundings so thickly verdant you could just touch it, Last Summer always looks lovely, even if the film proceeds to concentrate mainly on the tedious minutiae of childcare. Every so often the boys are threatened with going "to Swansea" for foster care, in tones so ominously calculated it has to be an in joke for anyone who resides in Cardiff (or is Tubbs off The League of Gentlemen). There is a brilliant kiddie-John Wicks sub plot when one of the boys gets understandably traumatised not over the deaths of the mam and dad ("Da") but the eventual fate of the family’s beautiful border collie, an animal that the film would have us believe is a vicious beast and who, without the harsh and dedicated discipline of a willing adult, will render the Welsh countryside a killing field. No dice: in a scene depicting the aftermath of a sheep mauling the bouncy animal is meant to have done, the collie sort of licks the poor ewe’s face and looks a bit dog-sad. Aww.

last summer review

They do say never work with kids and animals but in fairness, awkward collie-kindness aside, Last Summer doesn’t bear that out. Beneath the idealised pastoral ennui, there is an uneasy truth about the ferocious nature of Wales, a country which Last Summer depicts with visual authenticity (I actually didn’t cotton on that the film was meant to be set in the '70s until quite a way in - dunno what that says about Wales ☹). This is nostalgia for those who like their wistfulness on the rocks, whimsy that bites. If you’re the sort of person who’s into this sort of bleak pastoral, you’ll love Last Summer.

Last Summer is in UK cinemas June 7th.

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