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‘Last and First Men’ Exclusive Trailer: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Gorgeous First and Last Directorial Feature

The Oscar-nominated composer of "Sicario" passed away two years ago, and his only film as a director will soon premiere in Berlin.

"Last and First Men"

One the most emotional world premieres at the upcoming 2020 Berlin International Film Festival is bound to be “Last and First Men,” the directorial feature debut of the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. The musician died in February 2018 at the age of 48 amid an acclaimed career that saw him score back-to-back Oscar nominations for Best Original Score in 2015 and 2016 thanks to his work on “The Theory of Everything” and “Sicario.” The latter was one of several collaborations between Jóhannsson and Denis Villeneuve. Jóhannsson’s other score credits include Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” and “Arrival,” plus “Mandy” and “The Mercy.” Jóhannsson served as a mentor to Hildur Guðnádottir, who recently won the Oscar for her “Joker” original score.

Jóhannsson’s only directorial feature, “Last and First Men” is an adaptation of his touring multimedia project of the same name. The movie — shot on 16mm black-and-white film with “Victoria” and “Rams” cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen — played in concert halls, accompanied by Jóhannsson’s score with a live orchestra. The feature film playing at Berlin includes the composer’s original score and narration from Tilda Swinton. Jóhannsson composed the score with Yair Elazar Glotman. The project is based on Olaf Stapledon’s 1930 sci-fi novel of the same name, and Dutch photographer Jan Kempenaers’ 2010 art book “Spomeniks.” Jóhannsson and Grøvlen traveled through the Balkans together filming war monuments called “spomeniks,” erected on the sites of massacres and concentration camps. As seen in the exclusive trailer above, the film plays like Jóhannsson’s own artistic riff on the avant-garde style of “Koyaanisqatsi.”

The official “Last and First Men” synopsis reads: “What can we learn from the voice speaking to us from two billion years away? ‘Last and First Men’ juxtaposes the seminal speculative science fiction story by Olaf Stapledon, a haunting musical score by the late composer and musician Jóhan Jóhannson, and filmed images of futuristic, brutalist, otherworldly stone monuments erected during the communist era in the former Yugoslav republics… The film beckons us into a world of surreal and phantasmagorical monuments where a future race of humans finds themselves on the verge of extinction, and where the monuments – once intended as symbols of unity and brotherhood – remain as lone abandoned beacons beaming their message into the wilderness. While the story of crumbling future civilizations is told, the spectral presence of an entity attempting to communicate with us emerges.”

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“‘Last and First Men’ is a film that straddles the border of fiction and documentary,” Jóhannson wrote in a director’s statement before his passing. “It is a meditation on memory and failed utopia, contextualized through the literary mode of science fiction.”

“Last and First Men” will make its world premiere on Tuesday, February 25, at the Berlin International Film Festival. Another screening is set for Wednesday, February 26. Sales are handled by Films Boutique. Check out stills from the project below.

"Last and First Men"

“Last and First Men”

Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

"Last and First Men"

“Last and First Men”

Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

"Last and First Men"

“Last and First Men”

Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

"Last and First Men"

“Last and First Men”

Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

"Last and First Men"

“Last and First Men”

Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

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