As a father exhales deeply, mournfully, halfway through Last Letters, he holds himself together enough to reflect on 14 months of suffering. Having moved to create a change of fortunes, he says “it has not worked out like that”. With his child lost in the tragic Sewol ferry accident, we experience one family’s tragic suffering. There were 306 other victims from that fateful day in April of 2014, each with their own stories, and each with their own relatives who are now suffering.
Last Letters shines a light on just a handful of these families, each suffused with feelings of regret, misery, and agony. Director Nils Clauss handles these stories of raw emotion with a deft hand. Rather than focusing on the distress and pain on the relatives’ faces as they voice their stories, Clauss looks at what they’ve lost; the silence that consumes their world. Empty chairs, dusty photographs and regret over things unsaid strikes louder than pained visuals. The muted, simple visualisations are powerful, with the top-down shots of overlapping waves proving cathartic and surprisingly spiritual. It’s not surprising that these are competently brought together, considering Clauss’ status as a highly-regarded cinematographer in his homeland.
There’s a fascinating contrast between the silent tragedies these relatives have suffered and the serene beauty in the wider world. In just seven minutes, Clauss is unable to explore how these families have survived, but the film provides a short, sharp and painful snapshot of this episode. It’s impossible not to connect with at least one of the stories, but it’s the director’s skill in bringing these to the fore without hyperbole or emotional manipulation that shines through. Clauss is clearly a talent to watch in the documentary field, and we look forward to seeing what he creates next.
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DIRECTOR: Nils Clauss
WRITER: Nils Clauss
SOUND MIXER:Levi Patel
GRAPHIC DESIGN: Inah Shin
SYNOPSIS: A journey through loss, space and memory. The film commemorates the victims of the tragic Sewol ferry accident, in which 304 out of 476 passengers and crew members died in 2014.