Reviews of The Last Supper are hard to come by for a variety of reasons. We must remember that The Last Supper is a Cuban film written during the Cold War, and that it was clearly not widely produced or viewed in the United States. Outside of political reasons, it becomes clear that those who know Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's work are in complete agreement that Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) is his best work, and that film takes the center of the vast majority of pieces concerning Alea. As a result The Last Supper has never received the attention it merits, except for the occasional mention in scholarly articles about Cuban filmmakers devoting attention to Alea. In the review known to exist Arnold has nothing complimentary to say about the film itself, though he does express respect for Alea as a filmmaker in a country where existence is difficult.
Arnold, Gary. "'The Last Supper': 'Ambitious but Turgid.'" The Washington Post 11 May 1978, final ed.: C17.
Arnold is clearly disappointed with The Last Supper, highlighting several failures in the film to elicit feeling from the viewer. He claims the film is not entertainment as much as it is "dramatic dramaturgy, ultimately more interesting as a clue to Cuban propaganda aims in the so-called Third World than as a discreet or even national work of art." Arnold is particularly harsh on the film's depiction of the Count, finding that the character had potential to be a moving character but who ultimately fails to move beyond the label of idiot: "Viewed as an ineffectual, self-deceiving fool, the owner might have evolved into a memorable satiric figure. Here he runs the gamut from fathead to tyrant, not a very edifying progression. What might have been rather effective as droll parable...degenerates into melodramatic claptrap."
The ending is also a failure for Arnold, who sees the attempt by Alea to arouse support and admiration for Sebastian as he escapes as an exclamation point on Alea's inability to make any of the slave characters especially sympathetic. The film ends "on a note of hope rather less respectable than Hollywood's form of consolation -- the infant son of Spartacus. The Last Supper closes on a series of lyrical vistas of one slave escaping into the hills, a totally arbitrary revolutionary upbeat, especially in view of Alea's failure to identify closely with any of the slave characters."
Before spending the final paragraphs of the review on various Hispanic directors and their work at the time, Arnold groups together a final list of complaints about the film, passing judgment on a predictable plot and featured scenes that run far too long for Arnold's taste: "The Last Supper isn't really dramatized from the point of view of the submerged class in the story. It's a politically complacent, predictable caricature of the ruling class of two centuries earlier. Moreover, the set piece of the story, the master's Last Supper party, looks so static and stagey on screen that one suspects it might be more effective on the stage. There's an awful lot of speechifying for an awful long stretch." In this sense The Last Suppers becomes an unfortunate miscue in an otherwise promising directorial career.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Sean Patrick Magee, Graduate student at Lehigh University.
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