Prodigiously talented composer Jóhann Jóhannsson makes his posthumous directorial debut with an austere, hauntingly gorgeous sci-fi symphony voiced by Tilda Swinton and laced with sadness, wonder and hope.
When Jóhann Jóhannsson died too young in 2018, he left behind a treasure trove of haunting and evocative music, from groundbreaking albums besotted with obsolescence to dense, grimy and unforgettable scores for films like Sicario, Arrival and Mandy. But only a few realised he’d left a film as well. Last and First Men had premiered with live orchestral accompaniment just months before his death, at the Manchester International Festival.
Adapted from the 1930s novel by Olaf Stapleton and completed posthumously – Jóhannsson was re-orchestrating the film to the last – Last and First Men is as uncompromising and solemn as you’d expect. Filming largely at gargantuan abandoned Balkan monuments in grainy black and white, Jóhannsson eschews niceties such as “conventional drama” or “on-screen actors” in favour of mesmerising slow camera movements, Tilda Swinton’s hypnotic and quietly despairing narration from ‘2000 million years in the future’, and a signature score (featuring such heavy hitters as Hildur Guðnadóttir and Colin Stetson) that combines ethereal moments with impossibly dense soundscapes. Jóhannsson’s requiem for humanity has echoes with La Jetée, Tales From the Loop and the films of Béla Tarr, but ultimately this last and first film is a singular monument. — Doug Dillaman
This film has been selected by renowned filmmaker and New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate Pietra Brettkelly, recipient of the 2019 Dame Gaylene Preston Award for Documentary Filmmakers.
About the Filmmaker
Jóhann Jóhannsson was an Icelandic composer. He released his first solo album, Englabörn, in 2002. Best known for his original film scores which blended elements of electronic and classical music, he was nominated for two Oscars for The Theory of Everything (2014) and Sicario (2015).