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When his clan, including his wife and baby girl Néa, are massacred, Ao, a desperate Neandertal man, decides to leave the North country where he has been living for the South where he was born. His aim is to join his twin brother, from whom he was separated when he was nine. On his long and adventurous way home, he meets Aki, a Homo Sapiens woman... Written by
When Ao meets Aki or the oldest romantic comedy ever told
Jacques Malaterre, a maker of TV fiction (mainly TV films and series episodes), discovered prehistory and more generally speaking - the history of man - when he was chosen to direct the highly successful documentary "L'odyssée de l'espèce" (2003). He was so captivated by the matter he was assigned to explore that he gradually became a specialist of the subject himself. With the help of famed paleoanthropologist Yves Coppens as a co-writer and scientific adviser he also directed "Homo Sapiens" (2005) and "Le sacre de l'homme" (2009). So it is hardly surprising to see him further explore his favorite subject in a new work, the difference this time being that he has chosen the big screen to express himself in preference to television.
"Ao, le dernier Neandertal", which illustrates the thesis (confirmed by recent discoveries based on DNA analysis) that some Neandertal and Homo Sapiens had offspring together) undoubtedly benefits from this change of scope, which does not mean that it is the best in Malaterre's four-installment saga. Very spectacular indeed, the film has epic qualities when it comes to Ao's struggle for survival in all weather conditions, aesthetic assets when it describes the beauty and cruelty of nature of wild life. And actor Simon Paul Sutton is very believable as Ao, the desperate creature who sees all the members of his clan die around him, managing to express his feelings mostly through looks, grunts and body language. Which is some kind of a feat. Last but not least is the creation of a consistent specific language (that the viewer does not understand with the exception of one or two words). Too bad then that Malaterre resorted to a commentary in modern language to explain exactly what happens. Jean-Jacques Annaud had been able to do without such an expedient in his amazing "Guerre du feu".
On the other hand, for all the modernity of its scientific approach, the film is nothing else but a boy meets girl story, complete with the usual clichés: boy and girl don't get on/ love is born/ and they live happily ever after. Worse, the female lead, Aruna Shields, is too pretty to be true. Luckily, her acting is good, which partly compensates for the initial mistake, but you need a good dose of suspension of disbelief to really come into this aspect of the story.
Despite this weak point, "Ao" remains worth watching. Even if a few details leave to be desired, you really feel you are living a long long time ago constantly asking yourself whether YOU could have survived in such a hostile environment. This is enough to justify the price of your movie ticket, I think.
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