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Films >> Ultima Cena, La (The Last Supper) (1976) >>

Reviews by Adam Kaufman.

Allen, Tom. "Film: Strange Fruits." Village Voice 8 May 1978: 40.
Gutierrez Alea's film presents the late socialist revolution in an "atypically ambivalent" light. "[It] is a documentary that begins with a written paragraph attesting to the historical truth of the actions depicted and that ends with images of a single slave escaping by transforming himself into such primal forces as flying birds, falling rocks, galloping horses." Such superfluous use of poetry is not objective in itself, but when encompassed within a supposedly "historical" feature, the results are "sincere" at best and "masochistic" at worst.
Arnold, Gary. "'The Last Supper': 'Ambitious but Turgid.'" Washington Post 11 May 1978: C17.
Arnold is clearly disappointed with The Last Supper, highlighting several failures in the film to elicit feeling from the viewer. He claims the film is not entertainment as much as it is "dramatic dramaturgy, ultimately more interesting as a clue to Cuban propaganda aims in the so-called Third World than as a discreet or even national work of art." Arnold is particularly harsh on the film's depiction of the Count, finding that the character had potential to be a moving character but who ultimately fails to move beyond the label of idiot: "Viewed as an ineffectual, self-deceiving fool, the owner might have evolved into a memorable satiric figure. Here he runs the gamut from fathead to tyrant, not a very edifying progression. What might have been rather effective as droll parable...degenerates into melodramatic claptrap." The ending is also a failure for Arnold, who sees the attempt by Alea to arouse support and admiration for Sebastian as he escapes as an exclamation point on Alea's inability to make any of the slave characters especially sympathetic. The film ends "on a note of hope rather less respectable than Hollywood's form of consolation -- the infant son of Spartacus. The Last Supper closes on a series of lyrical vistas of one slave escaping into the hills, a totally arbitrary revolutionary upbeat, especially in view of Alea's failure to identify closely with any of the slave characters." Before spending the final paragraphs of the review on various Hispanic directors and their work at the time, Arnold groups together a final list of complaints about the film, passing judgment on a predictable plot and featured scenes that run far too long for Arnold's taste: "The Last Supper isn't really dramatized from the point of view of the submerged class in the story. It's a politically complacent, predictable caricature of the ruling class of two centuries earlier. Moreover, the set piece of the story, the master's Last Supper party, looks so static and stagey on screen that one suspects it might be more effective on the stage. There's an awful lot of speechifying for an awful long stretch." In this sense The Last Supper becomes an unfortunate miscue in an otherwise promising directorial career.
Asahina, R. "Mixed-up Movies." New Leader 22 May 1978: 30-31.
Although new to color film, Gutierrez Alea's use of muted tones and candle-lit backdrop add to the performance. The relatively low number of shots that make up the dinner scene stands testament to the talent of the previously unknown cast. "Unfortunately, good technique by itself cannot make for a satisfying allegory, and the screenplay . . . is simply too muddled for the tale to be effective." Asahina argues the film "lacks an intelligible point of view" and suffers from underdeveloped characters.
Canby, Vincent. "Film: 'The Last Supper,' A Parable from Cuba."New York Times 5 May 1978: C6.
Canby praises the film for saying "more than one ever expects to hear in popular revolutionary literature." He highlights the performances of the actors playing the priest, the Count's slave, the runaway slave, and the old slave who is briefly freed. The occasional use of the hand-held camera "is so intrusive as to seen self-congratulatory," but the rest of the film's cinematography is beautiful and reflects the oppressive, depressing nature of the plantation.
Gilliat, Penelope. "The Current Cinema: Last Supper in Havana." New Yorker 15 May 1978: 121-23.
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's parable engages its audience using blasphemous allegory and poignant irony: "[This] marvelous film, with its brownish-blacks and close-up heads looking like Rembrandt's portraits, the sound track at the beginning of the feast is filled with the clattering of knives and forks in the hands of slaves who don't know how to use them." Gilliatt appreciates the absurdity of a master proposing to his slaves that his mental suffering is greater than theirs while they toil in the fields. When the overseer beats them, they should smile, for that is God's greatest gift -- pain. A drunken Master brazenly declares, "The black man sings as he's cutting sugarcane. He was born to cut sugarcane," while the slaves wonder why there are no overseers in paradise. Gutierrez Alea's clever mixture of despair, socialism, and humor make this film a "dazzling moral tale" that also exaggerates its "parable" slant to the point of mockery. The Master plays both Christ-figure and pathetic bigot as he slaughters the very "disciples" he previously invited to his last supper, disregarding forgiveness, creating a noble and painstakingly honest allegory of Christian intentions.
Hamilton, Ian. "Films: Truly True." New Statesman 9 May 1979: 336.
"The Last Supper is a somewhat ponderous piece . . . about how not to be nice to your slaves." Hamilton argues the "ensuing revolution," the result of bigotry and promises not kept, "has as much to do with his paternalistic rationalizations as with any broken pledges." The acting is superb while the powerful moments generally fall flat at the end, the end message being "slaves or no slaves, cane-cutters will shortly have to face redundancy."
Hatch, Robert. "Films." Nation 20 May 20 1978: 609-10.
In spite of the Master's generous impulse, the invitation of one's subordinates to a religious dinner will ultimately "cast [the host] in an exalted role." The late 18th century bodes uneasy sentiments as fear of insurrection spreads from Haiti. Although he is a man of great religious conviction and feels a forlorn estrangement from God, he has no answer when his overseer demands they make their cane quota. Hatch believes the dinner scene added a sense of "personality, humor, irony, passion, and absurdity, among others" to the film, to his and hopefully the audience's delight. The leaders-that-be in Cuba will be delighted at the final slave's "invincible demand for freedom," but Gutierrez Alea's concern touches on an ethical realm as well. "A good deal of our inattention is devoted to keeping our own skirts clean," Hatch advocates, with regards to the Master's complacent attitude towards his slaves treatment, advising his overseer to "do what he must do." The evils committed vicariously through subordinates do not penetrate the human psyche -- as long as thine own hands are clean. Pitting a master "who could no more imagine a world in which he did not own a sugar plantation" against slaves who could not even imagine "the perfect paradise of welcoming torment as a gift from God" is Gutierrez Alea's way of exposing the tyranny of colonial one-crop feudalism.
Jaehne, Karen. Review of The Last Supper. Film Quarterly 33.1 (1979): 48-53.
Jaehne elucidates the way in which symbolism and metaphors are used throughout the film to reveal the extent to which 18th century morality regarding slavery contradicted traditional Christian values. She summarizes and analyzes the film through both the literal and the metaphorical "Holy Week" that divides the film, beginning with the film's violent opening scene and ending with Sebastian's escape. Additionally, she discusses the ways in which Gutierrez Alea uses visual symbols of head-gear -- the Count's white-powdered wig; the servants' white bandanas; the uncovered heads in the crowd scenes; Sebastian's bandaged head; etc. -- to reinforce the class structure imposed by the Christian elite in pursuit of maintaining an ironically un-Christian hierarchy. Although she claims that Gutierrez Alea does not critique religion itself, she argues that he frames the film in such a way as to reveal the hypocrisy in using religious justifications to support slavery as an institution. The film's metaphoric Holy Week thus becomes a parody of the Biblical Easter story whereby the film's "villains" -- the Count (and later, Don Manuel) -- assume the role of the Jesus figure and the slaves are hunted like animals and "crucified" for their acceptance of Christian values.
Kauffmann, S. "Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Communist Films, Two Kinds." New Republic 10 June 1978: 18-19.
Kauffmann unreservedly describes the film's failure not only as a "laborious analogy, clumsy in making and in implication," but also its inability to grasp the teachings of its obvious influencers, Marx and Engels, authors of the Communist Manifesto. Gutierrez Alea is aware of his excessively convoluted metaphors from previous films, but Kauffmann disparages his work's "banality and excessively transparent metaphors." The master's disillusion is evident from the beginning, and the tale unfolds as every demonstration of the "deceit of religion" does. The film dramatizes the tyrannies and egocentricities of treacherous leaders, which would of course disappear from a Marxist state. "Inarguably most Cubans are better off now than these slaves were," although it is all too easy to cite similar atrocities committed under different flags and changed names.

See Also

Haskell, Molly. Movies: Sugar, No Spice." New York Magazine 29 May 1978: 67-68.

Klain, S. "La ultima cena" ("The Last Supper"). Variety 3 May 1978: 26.

Perchaluk, E. "The Last Supper." Independent Film Journal 2 June 1978: 12.

Pym, J. "Ultima cena, La" ("The Last Supper"). Monthly Film Bulletin 46 April (1979): 79-80.