It was like a scene from Modern Times. I was standing on line for the Rome Film Festival’s opening night screening of Last Night, unceremoniously packed in with some of the rowdiest filmgoers I have ever met, when, after about twenty minutes, I realized I was in the middle of an all-out protest. I had no idea over what. For a moment, I tried to negotiate myself out of the mob, but once they started moving toward what I hoped was the cinema, I figured staying with them would keep me from getting lost all over again. And now that I know why they were gathering, I’m glad I joined them, if only for a moment.
Hundreds of writers, directors, actors, and other employees of the Italian culture sector had turned out to protest government funding cuts that have taken, and will continue to take, a serious toll on film industry workers. They broke through the crowd of media and civilians that had lined up – presumably, to get a look at Keira Knightley or Eva Mendes, stars of Last Night – and spread themselves out, most of them sitting, over every square inch of red carpet, chanting and orating all the while.
It was quite a sight. Those of us who had already made it into the auditorium, watched it all on the big screen inside of the theater, which, in slightly uncomfortable contrast, was beginning to fill with the type of well-groomed movie people who probably don’t have to worry as much about their employment. Then again, maybe they do.
After a significant delay, the lights dimmed. Last Night’s stars and filmmakers were paraded in, a few words of introduction were made, the jury was introduced, and the lights dimmed further. The film began.
Joanna and Michael Reed (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington), a young and affluent Manhattan couple, are the sort of loft-living folk we see a lot of in today’s New York movies – in other words, people you want to be, but are glad you aren’t. Things start to fray, at least officially, when Joanna confronts Michael about a crush he may (or may not) be having with Laura (Eva Mendes), a business associate he’s been going out of town with.
What follows is a vaguely familiar riff on the jealousy ronde. We’ve all been there, in movies and in life, and for a good part of Last Night it’s tough to figure out why we’re back. But I was glad we were. Keira Knightley, who seems to grow more intelligent with every movie, takes such fearful pleasure in running into and then going out with Alex (Guillaume Canet), her ex-boyfriend, that watching her try to make up her mind, one forgets, at least temporarily, that there is still another half of the picture waiting in the wings. That half – the will they or wont they dance of Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes – lacks the spark of real attraction, the quiet glinting looks and bashful smiles Knightley and Canet plugged into the moment they appeared together on screen.
But my mind kept going back to the rally on the red carpet. Were they still holding out?