Published on July 21st, 2015 | by Allan Brown0
EIFF 2015: Last Days In The Desert Review
Movie Review: Last Days in the Desert (2015)
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Rodrigo García
Writers: Rodrigo García
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ayelet Zurer, Ciarán Hinds
Five weeks into a self-imposed exile somewhere in the desolate Judean Desert, Yeshua/Jesus (Ewan McGregor) fatigued and possibly delirious from fasting, chances upon a family living high up in the mountains.
There he witnesses a Son (Tye Sheridan) labouring hard with his father (Ciarán Hinds) to build a new home on a nearby ridge, whilst caring for his dying Mother. The Son however, unsatisfied with the life paved out for him, longs for adventure, the chance to sail the sea, and visit the Holy city of Jerusalem.
The mother (Ayelet Zurer) meanwhile, does not want her son to see her die, but struggles to convince her husband to let him go. Although he initially passes them by, Yeshua is tempted back by Satan (who appears as Yeshua himself). He wagers that if the Son of God can resolve the family conflict to everyone’s satisfaction, he will let him continue on his journey of contemplation, completely undisturbed.
Despite “Last Days in the Desert” being the third big screen biblical adaptation in little over a year, Garcia’s low-key drama, is a quieter, more grounded, thought provoking affair than the big screen razzmatazz of Ridley Scott’s; Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), and Darren Aronofsky’s; Noah (2014), which presents a welcomed change of pace and storytelling to the genre.
The film is set at the crossroads of our protagonist’s life where his forthcoming options lie between; remaining in the desert to continue his voyage of contemplation, or return to Jerusalem to assume the role of Christ. This short window (where little context is known) presents not only an interesting opportunity for Garcia to freely explore the possibilities, attitudes and emotions attached with such responsibilities, but to scratch a little deeper on the human side of Jesus the man.
However, this is not the story of miracles or even religion. This is a drama focused hard of the dynamics of Fathers and Sons, and for the first time we see Jesus; angry at his father, reluctant to get involved in the lives of others, weak from the pressure of responsibility placed on his shoulders, and open to frequent counsel from Satan. This opens the door for a rich, multi-layered character study that is compelling, deeply moving and often tense.
McGregor assumes the roles of both Jesus and the Devil, and despite this kind of double casting often falling victim to unintentional laughs, McGregor’s along with Garcia’s elegantly paced script, ensures an air of mystery and intrigue is present any time the characters meet on screen. Indeed, McGregor really gets to flex his acting chops here, and in doing so presents one of his most compelling performances in recent years. Even in the films quiet moments, free from dialogue or exposition, we feel every shade and nuance the character is going through. This tremendous sense of skill and ability extends to the rest of the ensemble, who all too offer spellbinding performances. Tye Sheridan (Mud, Joe) continues to showcases ability as an actor way beyond his years – and experience, effortlessly holding fort next to acting might of Ewan McGregor and the wonderfully charismatic Ciarán Hinds.
Mexican Cinematographer; Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman, The Tree of Life) once again breaths serene beauty into every single frame witnessed on screen, reminding us once again, why he truly is the master of light.
Summary: A beautiful unassuming masterpiece