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Le Dernier Combat

First films are often like first drafts: rough-edged and scattershot, but indicative of the work to come. Luc Besson's first feature length film Le Dernier Combat (1983) is no exception, as it shows a fledgling filmmaker learning his craft. Pierre Jovilet stars (and co-wrote the film with Besson) as the main character in this post-Apocalyptic action film, in which the conceit is that the Apocalypse has left everyone speechless (and subsequently nameless). Like most survivors, Jovilet's day is taken up by trying to find food and amuse himself, but his main goal is to find a woman, as there seems to be none left. Scrounging for another home after killing a man, he ventures off to an abandoned town where he fights with a big brute (Jean Reno) who's trying to get into an old man's (Jean Bouise) fortress. Jovilet barely escapes Reno and is near death when he somehow stumbles into the fortress, and as he heals he bonds with Bouise as they struggle to keep Reno at bay. Post-Apocalyptic settings are good for low budget films because they can be told with a small cast and shot in abandoned areas; it's served to make the best (The Road Warrior) and worst (Robot Monster) of the style. Though indebted to his predecessors, Combat brings something fresh to the genre with the lack of dialogue: it forces the film to be intensely visual and quickly paced — something Besson excels at. Unfortunately Combat plays like a feature-length version of a short film (which it was, L'Avant Dernier, a short film Besson made in 1981) as the opening and ending sequences are poorly integrated. Though the film is entertaining, it's minor, and more of a footnote for Besson fans as the place where Besson met two of his most important collaborators — Jean Reno, who Besson has put in most of his movies since, and composer Eric Serra. Ironically, it is Serra who most dates Combat, as he had not yet abandoned the prog-rock sound of the early '80s. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), which does wonders for the black-and-white photography that always looked cramped and poorly framed in pan-and-scan. The disc has no audio or subtitle options since there is no dialogue, but is in an effective Dolby 2.0 stereo. Theatrical Trailers for this and three other Besson films. Keep-case.

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