Sunday 8 December 2013

The Last Piper (2013)

Director: Iain Forbes
Star: Jim Sturgeon
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
My better half and I are at odds as to what the ending of The Last Piper actually means and I'm not sure that either of us have it right. What we agree on is that the nigh on twenty minutes it takes us to get to it is magnificently shot. The highlight of the piece is clearly the cinematography of Sondre Sandbakken, which only fails when his camera is occasionally as snowblind as the rest of us when looking at the vast white expanse of mountains in northern Norway. The opening scene contains wonderful composition of frame and many of the scenes that follow do likewise. As capable as actors Jim Sturgeon and Ole Jørgen Farstad are in the main speaking roles, the locations steal the film from them, indoors or out. There's a bleakness to the end of the world that seems entirely appropriate for the story, set in the year 2084 as a mysterious trio hunt the last bagpiper in the world, one who owns a pristine set but apparently isn't able to play them. He's looking for a mythical cave to learn how and so keep the art alive.

The myth is explained in the opening text, so is presumably fundamental. It speaks of the Cave of Gold, where pipers could, for a price, gain unrivalled musical talent. There's no mention of the Devil, but this sounds rather like the crossroads of the blues, merely much further north and lost under the Norwegian snow. Ryan MacCrimmon, the last piper of the title, is in dire need of the cave if he's to keep playing of the pipes alive. 'Of all the sorry souls God could have picked,' is his description of himself, but he made it this far and he'll get his shot at playing the right note in the right place. That was never in doubt, but what happens next is certainly up for debate. Does the note needed tie to the price to be paid? Does it effectively bring the pipes back to life or does it kill them off for good? Is what we see the future or the traditional requiem for the last hope of one coming to pass for this particular instrument? I still haven't figured out if we're even looking at anything real or just a vision.
At least the script thus far has taken us on a straightforward quest, if phrased in a surprising way and in a surprising location. What it hasn't given us is any background to why the quest is needed. What has the 21st century brought to lead the pipes to the brink of extinction? Who are the mysterious trio who go to brutal lengths to make that happen once and for all? Certainly their leader is a very severe villain with very severe eye make up to make sure we understand that she's very severe, but she doesn't get a single word of dialogue. The date in which the film is set suggests that this is science fiction but we see no expected tropes, so maybe these are aliens for whom the pipes are the sound of death. It seems like a stretch without supporting evidence which is notably absent, but there's nothing else to suggest what these folk are doing or why. They become less characters and more the different parts of a weapon, but if that's the thought, who wields them? This looks and sounds great, but what does it mean?

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