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'Last and First Men,' directed by Johann Johannsson is a compelling exploration of the human existence / Morning Star

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SILENCE and darkness. From the void, a whisper of wind. Then we see distant hills beneath a vast layer of menacing grey cloud. An object begins to fill the sky - its ambiguous geometry suggests a colossal spacecraft. The sound segues into an eerie choral effect and a voice urges us to "listen patiently."

Good advice, because Last and First Men is an unhurried and complex contemplation of loss, memory and the mysteries of existence. Based on the 1930 novel of the same name by British philosopher, sf writer and Common Wealth Party member Olaf Stapledon, the film explores the history of humanity in the near and distant future.

There is no cast apart from a narrator, the visuals are abstract and the tone falls somewhere between academic dissertation and parable. It ought to be pretentious and dull but it works brilliantly.

Director Johann Johannsson, who died before the film's final edit and release, was an accomplished musician, arranger and composer. The stark and dreamlike imagery is heightened by his sorrowful and strangely melodic score, a blend of traditional and electronic sound.

Sadly, this was Johannsson's only feature film. A brilliant and idiosyncratic integration of image, sound design and script, this illuminating and engaging treatment of a science-fiction classic deserves the widest possible audience.

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