December 21, 2012: the date the Mayans predicted the world would end. A white director and his native companion scour the desolate Yucatan landscape, searching for shooting locations in which to make “the last movie”—while occasionally being filmed by curious tourists through their cellphones. No, the world hasn’t ended, of course, but if Raya Martin and Mark Peranson’s La Última Película is to be believed, cinema has—the backdrop of the Mayan-prophesized end of days presenting one of the more unique opportunities to theorize such a concept. The film is both a revision of and spiritual successor to Dennis Hopper’s 1971 fantasia The Last Movie, as Martin and Peranson carry over the deflating of Western mythologizing, while also augmenting the critique of imperialistic mindsets Hopper only touched on. Ultimately, La Última Película isn’t so much about “the end of cinema” as it is about the people who abuse the medium and their subjects for their own political agenda.
That sense of imperialism is personified by the aforementioned white director cruising around and seemingly claiming Mexico as his own, much like a modern-day conquistador acting as an emissary for a Hollywood studio. Named Alex, he’s played by filmmaker Alex Ross Perry like one of the insufferable blowhards found in one of Perry’s own films, and his rambling monologues on the importance of his art are delivered with such stern conviction that this self-delusion becomes uproariously comical. Wandering around the Mayan ruins, Alex is assisted in his quest to make his masterpiece by Gabino (Gabino Rodríguez), a modest local whose disillusion with foreign visitors is etched in every sideways glance toward his companion.
This partnership of sorts forms the fundamental dynamic in Martin and Peranson’s direct confrontation, not interrogation, of an outsider’s relationship with a culture he or she ostensibly understands. Though Alex is all too eager to ridicule the throngs of spiritualists and tourists gathered around the ruins waiting for the “apocalypse,” he comments on how he finds littered trash in the middle of the woods beautiful enough to be filmed. Martin and Peranson, in an ongoing bit of self-deprecation that also targets their outsider status, underline the inanity of both the various tourists and Alex through Gabino, who humorously calls Alex an “asshole” after one of his pontifications, and subsequently finds it hilarious when a belligerent Alex spends a night in jail. Martin and Peranson even generously digress, in one enormously moving essayistic sequence, into Gabino’s family photo album after he offhandedly mentions earlier that his mother and father fell in love at one scouted location years before, a fact which would probably have gone ignored by Alex.
As La Última Película is concerned with all things that past civilizations leave behind, whether as substantial as Mayan artwork or as banal as a pile of trash, there’s something specifically about the act of filmmaking that Martin and Peranson find inherently silly. Indeed, while a director and an actor step aside to discuss “creative decisions,” there’s always going to be a frustrated and underpaid technician next to them trying to untangle lighting cords. The film thus hurtles into a sort of afterlife landscape as it dips into a meta-textual commentary on its own production, complete with shots of boom operators following Alex and Gabino and behind-the-scenes footage of Perry performing take after take of a certain stunt, all shot with formats as varied as film and cellphone cameras. Through this proliferation of technology, the last movie, La Última Película suggests, could very well be something as simple and generally non-collaborative as a short video shot on vacation. Regardless, someone will put on a show for the camera, while they or someone else will eventually benefit from it.