AO the Last Neanderthal
what a mean and nasty sort. In French director Jacques Malaterre’s
portrayal of our pre-history, early humans are depicted in a savage and
honest light. Not content with driving the last remnants of the
Neanderthal race into the frozen waste of northern Europe, they then set
out to isolate and destroy the remaining groups, leaving not one man,
woman or child alive. Homo Sapiens-yours and my ancestors- are very much
the antagonists in this story.
narrowly survived the slaughter of his tribe, the titular Ao (Simon Paul
Sutton) struggles south in search of warmer climes. He is driven by
memories of his childhood, and specifically his brother Oa, who he hears
and sees through a series of visions throughout his journey. But during
this trek Ao is caught and imprisoned by a tribe of homo-sapien
warriors, who plan to sacrifice him to their deities. Using his
primitive cunning and brute strength Ao manages to escape, along with a
human girl named Aki (Aruna Shields.) When Aki gives birth, Ao starts to
regard the child as his own murdered daughter and steals her for
himself. But he soon realises that he and baby Wama won’t make it far
unless they have Aki’s milk. What starts out as open hostility between
Ao and Aki slowly begins to mellow. Bound by a mutual fascination, the
two continue the journey together in search of Ao’s promised land.
presents itself as a documentary, ‘The last Neanderthal’ is told in
narrative form. Narration is provided by Ao, and later on Aki, but
most of the dialogue in the film passes without translation, as if we
really are watching ancient humans fighting and performing their
semi-documentary of this nature, it was always going to be a fine line
between displaying the harsh realities of the time period and having
characters we could still relate to. ‘Ao’ gets this just about spot-on.
The story pulls no punches with its savagery and brutality, yet there
are also some finer, subtler moments to remind us that these animalistic
characters are still essentially human.
the lead actors do a great job of bringing this world to life; Sutton’s
blue-eyed portrayal of Ao is full of wonder and child-like frustration.
It’s the interplay between Ao and Aki that makes this feature film- the
clash of personalities, ideals and motivations is always at the
thing that hurts believability is the fact that the Neanderthals here
aren’t that much bigger or bulkier than the ‘humans’ they share the film
bulky nose and high, thick brow line do make Ao look primitive and
savage to a degree, it would have been nice to have more of a visual
contrast between the two races. Perhaps someone of greater stature,
with a more imposing physical presence, would have been better suited to
the role of Ao.
one, albeit crucial, lapse in the provision of subtitles for this
French-speaking film; there isn’t any English translation for the final
paragraph of text, the one that is supposed to tie the story together.
It’s not a complete deal breaker but it does leave you slightly baffled.
I do have a French phrase book here somewhere, but I wasn’t willing to
pause the movie on my plasma screen while I excavated it from the mess
in my study.
aren’t any profound revelations or happy endings in the story of Ao.
This is a stark, candid, sometimes moving look at our very early
history. The ending leaves you feeling a little deflated (unless
something truly inspiring or poignant was contained in that last block
of French) but I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if you’re
interested in the subject matter.