The netherworld between life and death is viewed as a place of light, shadow, movement and uncertain ideas in “Night Passage,” the latest collaboration between Trinh T. Minh-ha and Jean Paul Bourdier. Spectacularly shot in video, project is of a piece with pair’s previous work, although this time with a slightly more conventional narrative line from script’s source, Kenji Miyazawa’s sci-fi children’s novel, “Milky Way Railroad.” Pic is a pure artwork for fests and special exhibitions, with specialized vid play an option.
Kyra (Yuan Li-Chi) ends her workday at a furniture factory to tend to her ailing (off-screen) father. They lament the unexplained seven-year absence of her mother, but Kyra is certain of her homecoming. On a bicycle ride to the ocean, Kyra passes by friend Nabi (Denice Lee) and her young son Shin (Joshua Miller), and her venture gradually leaves the real world for “the fourth dimension,” according to Men of the Night (Howard Dillon, Vernon Bush) aboard a train on which Kyra finds herself, suddenly accompanied by Nabi and Shin.
The night train makes two stops. At the Sound and Word Station, the trio encounters an odd dinner party, and art that emits sounds. The Dance and Light Station is a more dazzling place of fire dancers and a “House of the Immortals” run by a robot scientist named Uncle Borges (Thomas Zummer).
As with Trinh’s best work, when language gives way to images, “Night Passage” takes on real force and a majestic sense of the subconscious. Conversely, when words dominate, this odyssey turns quite banal.
Bourdier’s light designs (distinct from Kathleen Beeler’s sharp, high-contrast lensing) and physical sculptures add that other dimension mentioned in the dialogue.
Yuan (thesp usually known as Eugenia Yuan) is far more subdued than she was in “Charlotte Sometimes,” and knows to play a secondary role to the densely conceived visual design. Mise en scene allows for plentiful long shots, the better to take in some dazzling nighttime outdoor choreography and foreboding industrial settings. Trippy soundtrack, featuring Bay Area trio the Constructions of Ruins is packed with electronics, percussion and reverb.