The Last Sentence is agonizingly beautiful to behold. If a film could somehow bring old black and white photographs from the early 40’s to life for just a few moments with crystal clarity, then this would be it. But like photographs, this film presents only snippets of story, turning what should have been an engrossing examination of a tumultuous period in the subject’s life into mere glimpses that leave audiences the responsibility of creating context. As such, this may be a challenging film for those that aren’t already familiar with Torgny Segerstedt.
It’s the beginning of World War II and Adolf Hitler has come to power. Like in other parts of the world, Sweden has adopted a policy of Appeasement in the hopes of avoiding a military conflict. Only a small, vocal minority recognizes that the evil that is the Nazi regime must be stamped out immediately. And leading the charge is journalist Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), editor-in-chief of the newspaper Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning. The Last Sentence chronicles these uncertain times in his professional and personal life.
Viewers will be enthralled immediately by the visual presentation. From the very beginning, the use of black and white gives the film a preternatural veneer, making the familiar, like leaves drifting along a stream, seem oddly otherworldly. So when the filmmakers zoom in tight on an inkwell, viewers will be hard pressed to know what they’re looking at until a pen dips inside. And while these moments are briefly disconcerting, it’s all part of the transportive properties of black and white, and the filmmakers masterfully use this to their advantage.
Light and dark play immense parts in The Last Sentence, both visually and thematically. Torgny is often framed by darkness, with his stark white face and shock of white hair being the contrast in the scene. This dovetails nicely with his uncompromising behavior professionally, waging a one-man war against the Nazis, and personally, openly maintaining an affair in front of his wife and family. Torgny is presented as a man who did not live within grey areas.
Yet, while the cinematography feels artistic and deliberate, the actual story feels rudderless and truncated. In fact, there may not actually be a story here. Ostensibly, the film is about Torgny using his journalistic career to fight the Nazis, but the film never builds a satisfying story arc in this regard. The film also spends a deceptive amount of time on Torgny’s public affair with his best friend’s wife, Maja (Pernilla August), leading audiences to believe the main story arc for the film exists here, but even this narrative is disjointed and directionless. The film never gives audiences the feeling that any of the actions directly resulted in any of the outcomes later in the film. It’s up to viewers to connect the dots.
Character development is just as fragmented. Audiences are given details about Torgny, like the death of his young son and the death of his young mother, but there is no real explanation as to how these events and more affected Torgny or how they relate to the period of his life being presented. No doubt audiences will just accept that the events depicted in the film actually took place, but why the filmmakers chose to present these specific events will have viewers wondering.
In one way, The Last Sentence could be viewed as an anti-biopic or, at the very least, a rejection of modern biopics, which typically attempt to cull specific events in order to form some kind of cohesive story with a traditional three-act structure. The Last Sentence turns that model on its head, eschewing story and focusing instead on poignant moments to illustrate a man instead of a plot. It’s an interesting approach, but only very refined palettes will be able to appreciate it.