“The Last Suit” (“El último traje”)
One Last Voyage
“The Last Suit” is Pablo Solarz’s tale of an elderly Jew trying to get back to the home in Poland he fled seven decades ago. Argentine actor Miguel Angel Sola plays Buenos Aires oldster Abraham Bursztein, who is surrounded by loving family members (and one greedy granddaughter that he has to bribe to take a picture with him) on an occasion that proves less happy than it appears: His daughters are selling his house and forcing their father into a retirement home. Abraham convinces his family to let him spend one more night alone as a goodbye to his home of so many decades — then sneaks off as soon as they’re gone, looking for an after-hours travel agent and telling her that he needs to fly to Poland now. He has to settle for a roundabout itinerary with an initial layover in Spain. We see him board that long flight and use some reverse-psychology to get a whole row of seats to himself.
This is one of the many scenes requiring in which he uses use and frailty to his advantage. Through occasional flashbacks, we see both the Jewish social world Abraham enjoyed as a child as well as the horrors that World War II inflicted: near starvation after his time in Nazi camps, going back to the house he grew up in and being turned away, getting help only from one young acquaintance. That acquaintance is the man Abraham hopes to see now, before he dies.
The closer we get to Lodz, though, the more the film reminds us why Abraham dreads this trip so much. Solarz’s script occasionally throws dramatic momentum aside to remind us of what happened historically. Some of the psychological difficulties the old man encounters on the trip are well dramatized; others are maudlin or condescending to the viewer. By its third act, it’s clear that this film fits into a familiar happy-goodbye format.
Quite basically, this is the story of a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who travels from Buenos Aires to Lodz to fulfill a promise he made nearly 70 years earlier. This is a late-life road movie with plenty of poignant and humorous moments. Abraham has a bad right leg that he nicknames “tzuris” because of the aggravation it gives him. He is a stubborn, 88-year-old retired tailor who still has plenty of fight and flair left in him. Unfortunately, his family refuses to recognize it. Bursztein has already foolishly divided his property among his daughters, and the two older ones decide to dispatch him to a nursing home. After all, they say, he will soon need more care because the day is coming when his leg will require amputation.
Bursztein isn’t ready to give up his independence just yet. He has a mission to accomplish back in the old country, a place that for years he has refused to name. When ordering his travel tickets, he still won’t let the word pass his lips and instead writes “Polonia” on a slip of paper. The director is not shy about assorted Jewish stereotypes. As Abraham flies to Madrid, he overnights in a hostel and makes his way overland; we see that haggling and bickering are a funny, necessary part of the process.
The screenplay is in German and Polish with English subtitles and it gives us a fresh take on the horrors of growing old, the indignities and humiliations of a body that keeps letting you down as well as the memories that we cannot shake. What makes “The Last Suit” a hopeful film that is basically sweet at its core is the universal humor of a cranky old man on this one last quest.