Melbourne 2013 Review: THE LAST TIME I SAW MACAO Is A Stunted Visual Essay

The Last Time I Saw Macao is a quasi neo-noir cum documentary that centers on Portugal's historical occupation in a city with the highest density on Earth. It has been likened to Marker's Sans Soleil and, on its own merits, has moments of pure splendor stemming from montages of the city itself.

The rest of the time the film tries to tell a forcefully engaging noir tale that never works to any effect and does nothing to enhance the investigative and contemplative aspects of the visual essay. It is a goofy and clumsy gimmick of murder and supernatural intrigue where nothing is shown and the occasional hammy acting of a forced scream is heard after the sound of a muffled gun shot. During these sounds, the film may show an empty room or flapping curtain. Normally off-screen violence is a great film effect, but given this context it does not work.

The characters are however quite intriguing. The two narrators dissenting voices negatively comment on Macao's transformation throughout, but this is the tale of a man that has traveled to a city he once left in order to find a girl. It is a noir trope to be sure and in a narrative context, is distinct from the essayist notion of the film. But it drives the protagonist forward to locations that warrant enough interest to consider. The girl is also actually a transvestite, an intentional choice from the film makers and a walking metaphor for the identity crisis of the city in question.

The rest of the characters are off-screen and usually murdered soon after they are heard. Once the annoying overlay of this cheesy plot is out of the way, the film delves into sublime cinematography. "The night is madness," the protagonist redundantly states as scenes of Macao on a balmy Chinese new year night prevail themselves on the senses in the films best moment.

For a slightly condensed history of this amazing city and some truly great montages, The Last Time I Saw Macao comes recommended. It has triggered my interest in the visual essay which can only be a good thing. It will hopefully engage you on this level as well.


The Last Time I Saw Macau screened at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival. For more of Kwenton's MIFF Coverage, see Twitch's MIFF landing page. Christopher Bourne recently reviewed MIFF title Harmony Lessons. His review can be seen here. Kwenton will be back tomorrow with his review of Mark Hartley's Patrick.

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  • This is a great review that summed up so many of the issues I had with the film, as well as the things i did like about it.

    I have to mention that I have a slight issue with this: "The girl is also actually a transvestite, an intentional choice from the film makers and a walking metaphor for the identity crisis of the city in question". Mainly because it makes assumptions about the identity of transvestites, assumptions that are questionable and perhaps a little unfair.

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