The Last Autumn (Film Movement Plus, NR)

Yrsa Roca Fannberg’s documentary The Last Autumn opens on an apocalyptic note, with the roar of an impending storm, black and white shots of an angry sky, dramatic strings on the soundtrack, and a partial reading of Ginnungagap, an Old Norse creation myth. This story is cyclical and based in the natural world, making it the perfect beginning to a documentary about an elderly sheep-farming couple living in the rugged and remote seaside village of Árneshreppur.

The Last Autumn takes place, as the title suggests, in the last autumn that the couple, Úlfar and Oddny, will continue with this way of life. Their children are grown and moved away, they’re increasingly less able to carry out the kind of rugged life demanded in such a remote location, and it’s time for something different. Fannberg’s primary interest, however, is not in exploring why this couple made the decision to leave at this particular point in time, nor on what they plan to do next, but rather on documenting the way they live now. Since young Icelanders aren’t showing much interesting in taking up so rugged an existence, this film serves the dual purpose of documenting a vanishing way of life while also providing a portrait of two people who have long gone their own way in an increasingly modernized world.

Grandchildren and neighbors arrive to help with the sheep round-up, making their farm more populated than it usually is. Still, there are long passages of time with no words spoken, other than what comes in from the radio, which often provides an ironic counterpart to the simple life lived by the central characters (one broadcast about how we lived in an increasingly computerized society is a bit on the nose, but other choices are more subtle). Instead of constant conversation, we observe people getting on with their work, whether it’s hauling driftwood up from the ocean, preparing a meal, hauling in and gutting fish, or chasing down sheep so they can be sold. In quiet moments, people do talk, and every word carries more meaning for coming amidst so much silence.  

The Last Autumn is a slow and patient film, appropriate for the life of the two central characters and their home. Their way of life is not primitive, by any means—they live in a house with the expected modern conveniences, mechanized farm equipment is key to their work, and an airplane also makes an appearance—but it’s also quite different from life in the city or probably just about anywhere else in Europe or North America. Fannberg hooked me from the film’s opening and I could feel myself slowing down and relaxing as I watched it, all the while appreciating the rugged beauty of the land.  So, while I’m not planning to give up my city life and return to the land any time soon, it’s quite pleasant to take a vicarious trip to a slower and more human-paced world. | Sarah Boslaugh

The Last Autumn is available for streaming from Film Movement Plus.

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