“Being so pretty, it’s a curse.”
For his debut feature, director Cédric Jouarie swore he would not tone down anything and instead focus on making a truthful, if not painful work. Considering “The Very Last Day” is mainly about the violation of trust, abuse and exploitation, his thoughts, as expressed in his foreword to the film, certainly hint at an authentic first film. Especially since he also has experiences of being exploited and abused, which he mentions in his statement to the film, this notion becomes understandable, and perhaps the only honest way to deal with this subject matter.
However, receiving financing or any kind of support from production companies has proven to be a near impossible task for Jouarie and Dan Kae Chuang, his wife and producer. The project, which has occupied much of his time for over ten years, was either rejected or he was forced to make certain re-writes, given the tough themes of the film. In the end, with the help of crowdfunding and his personal finances, he made the movie he wanted to make in the first place, without any compromises. In his foreword, which you can find on the homepage of his and Chuang’s production company, he explains “The Very Last Day” might as well be his last film, but if that is the case, he wanted to make sure to leave a lasting impression with his work.
Life could not be better for Raymond (Lawrence Ong). His latest novel had not been received well by the critics, but his loyal readers have supported him over the years, providing him with a steady income and a wealthy lifestyle. While his daughter, Cynthia (Meng-Hsueh Lee), also supports him, lately the only dissonant tone in his life has been his marriage to Viola (Heng-Yin Chou), who has had enough of being addressed almost exclusively as “Mrs. Raymong Ho”. She feels exploited by Raymond, who has used her stories in his novels and thus has become successful.
Although he tries to talk to Viola, the constant arguments have taken their toll and Raymond finds himself being attracted to Melanie (Wei-Yi Lin), one of the fans who has been following him lately. However, he does not know Melanie has her own reasons for stalking him, one buried in their past lives. But Raymond notices only too late her affection is really a drive for revenge.
Essentially, “The Very Last Day” feels like two movies combined into one. Even though the overall themes stay the same, albeit being executed more physically and violently in the second half, there seems to be a line between the relationship drama and the psychological thriller. At the same time, the script written by Jouarie and Chuang provides a natural transition between these two parts, one which fits the kind of development each of their characters are going through, especially perhaps Raymond.
At the same time, this provides an attentive audience with a thorough perspective on the dimensions of abuse taking place among these people, as well as its repercussions. While the physical abuse is the most obvious example, these scenes take up maybe 30 percent of the whole film, while the kind of exploitation Viola and Melanie experience is more emphasized. Considering we are dealing with three main characters, Jouarie often cleverly plays with various perspectives; for example, during a scene in which Viola and Raymond have dinner in a restaurant. Although Raymond is not necessarily the “bad guy”, you can see the shift between these two characters, one who has labeled himself the good husband while the other one is fed up with being the trophy wife. Later on, there is a similar scene between Melanie and Raymond which can be viewed in a similar way, in which Raymond is confronted with even more serious accusations.
Considering his character-driven approach, Jouarie’s impressive cast carries the film, especially in its long scenes of dialogue. There is a tension in each image making the often static imagery, something of an antithesis to the bottled-up feelings inside of these characters. Heng-Yin Chou and Wei-Yi Lin deliver brilliant performances and women who have been abused and exploited, the wounds visible in the viewer, but seemingly indecipherable to people like Raymond. Additionally, Lawrence Ong goes through the most interesting learning curve of the film, presenting a rather difficult and problematic character.
In the end, “The Very Last Day” is a brave, sometimes hard-to-watch film about abuse and exploitation, about revenge and staying silent. Supported by a strong cast and imagery, this will appeal to those in favor of works like David Slade’s “Hardy Candy” or Rob Reiner’s “Misery”. And most importantly, this is a film worth supporting, for it will be interesting to see what an artist like Cédric Jouarie will come up with next.
1) www.seedandspark.com/fund/theverylastday#team, last accessed on: 01/04/2019
2) www.kamomeintl.com/the-very-last-day, last accessed on: 01/04/2019