Fighter Marloes Coenen has had an illustrious career but, in her mid-thirties, age is catching up with her, and she wants to have a child. In The Last Fight, an existentialist tale, we follow Coenen as she prepares to bow out – hopefully as world champion. “[Marloes is] a great person and a great subject to engage with the viewer. And her story is amazing. When I first met her, I saw that sense of obsession and panic in her eyes, and then I thought ok, this is a film,” says director Victor Vroegindeweij.
According to Vroegindeweij, the Dutch really shouldn’t be all that good at MMA (mixed martial arts) in the first place, being a race who thrive on compromise, he stresses. “In Holland, we always debate and then we find a way where everybody loses a little bit, in politics and in business, and we are quite successful at it. That we are the best at this extremely violent sport is strange. In MMA there is no middle ground. No consensus. Winner takes all.”
The set-up in the Coenen camp is complex, with a triumvirate of characters pulling her from pillar to post. Head trainer Martijn has always run a tight ship and is determined to keep it that way. Coenen’s gentle boyfriend Roemer, also a fighter, suggests other training methods, but he is too conciliatory and his approach seems to lack the necessary rigour. Another character, Leon the mind-coach, reassures her with Tarot card readings.
Vroegindeweij was looking to add a narrated commentary to reflect on the pure essence of combat, but needed somebody with gravitas to deliver it. “I could try to find a voice at one of the voice agencies, but they often lack character. So I thought, what about a genuine American gritty voice like Bruce Dern?,” the director says. So he contacted Dern’s agent, who replied that the actor was interested, but he needed a firm offer. When Vroegindeweij stressed that there was no money left and that he would be paying out of his own pocket, Dern settled on 90 minutes of recording time. The subsequent narration delivers considerable impact to the film.
“I wanted to add a layer of philosophical depth that can hang above the story and can comment from a place of experience. This film talks to many cultures. The voice-over emphasises that, and makes it more accessible to an Anglo-Saxon audience as well,” Vroegindeweij concludes.