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The Last Year of Darkness Turns Reality Into Science Fiction

Ben Mullinkosson’s acclaimed documentary shows the alt kids of Chengdu up close before their own apocalypse.

Directed by Ben Mullinkosson

by Noémie Attia

Chengdu, 2023. In the heart of the behemoth city of Sichuan, a bar called Funky Town seems to be the last bastion of  underground nightlife and free expression. A group of friends live their last raves, drag shows, loves and losses as a giant monster of steel approaches. Its plan: taking over the whole street to bring… a new train stop. 

Today, cities evolve according to these principles: new is better, efficiency should be maximized and most of all, riches must be produced. The Last Year of Darkness shows what this productivist philosophy really entails: erasing spaces where people can be undisciplined, controlling every last part of the city and destroying communities, often lower-class and queer. This futuristic project is happening now, in every major city of the world. Ben Mullinkosson’s tender storytelling reveals what will be lost.

The Last Year dives right into the alternative lives of its protagonists, their personal struggles, and their simple joys. We hear the sounds of a hand stroking the hair of a friend and mouths kissing in the middle of a rave. We see the chaos of nightlife and all the beautiful things born within it. Mullinkosson recounts human closeness with incredible nuance. He understands the people he films, yet he knows a film will never entirely do them justice.

The city is a colossal block of concrete, metal and glass, but at times it appears as a mountain or a sea. The characters, small against this backdrop, contemplate this gray, hazy landscape and give us some hope. Funky Town will cease to exist, but the people will remain and their bonds will still grow, like tiny plants grow on tar cracks. 

The Last Year of Darkness is now streaming on MUBI.