Although tyro helmer Leonardo Brzezicki’s philosophical intentions outstrip his ability to satisfyingly realize them onscreen, there’s much to commend in his feature debut, “Night.” While overlong and saggy in the midsection, the pic nevertheless is a work of noble ambition, aiming to plumb the emotional residue of sound through a story of six friends immersing themselves in ambient recordings made by their recently deceased chum. Brzezicki’s experiments with aural impressions and the passage of time may not fully cohere , yet the sensations evoked aren’t negligible, and fest auds should be given the chance to judge for themselves.
Alexis Dos Santos’ name in the credits (as associate producer and production designer) will come as no surprise, since thesp-turned-helmer Brzezicki is an actor in “Unmade Beds,” a pic whose neo-New Wave stylings find echoes in “Night.” Here the level of uncertainty and the need to hold on to the past are even more acute, making these twentysomethings a melancholy sextet, struggling to come to terms with the loss not just of a friend, but of their not-so-distant post-sexual innocence.
Miguel’s untimely death precipitates this gathering in his remote house, set within a dense forest. As the friends pack up his belongings, they listen to recordings he made, played loudly through speakers set up inside and outside the house. For the most part, they’re natural sounds, and the group tries to guess where they were recorded: Were the waves taped from the beach or from a boat? Capturing the moment of recording helps them hold onto Miguel in a nearly palpable way, and also stops time’s passing.
For Pedro (Jair Jesus Toledo), Miguel’s former b.f., the presence of the past is overwhelming, and he neglects his new b.f., Juan (Gaston Re). Miguel’s best friend, Violeta (Flavia Noguera), is similarly having a hard time, especially when watching her former beau, Matias (Pablo Matias Vega), together with his current partner, Laura (Maria Soldi). Loss hangs heavily over the house and its environs, and the sensation, new for such a young crowd, makes it difficult to process.
To capture this unsettled feeling, Brzezicki plays with dissonance, particularly between what’s seen and what’s heard, so church singing on the soundtrack at the start contrasts with the image of a cloudy night sky accented by a smoking woman in silhouette. It’s not unreasonable to make claims for the helmer taking Wittgenstein’s theories on the autonomy of language and turning them on the aural world, forcing auds to question how sounds change perception. The film’s greatest success is in demonstrating how the processing of auditory stimuli is based on intense subjectification: What we hear, even more than what we see, involves personal interpretation that can’t be fully transmitted from one person to another.
However, “Night” isn’t sure whether to be all-out experimental or mood-driven narrative, and at times Brzezicki isn’t quite certain how to put everything together in a cohesive manner. More sense of the personalities involved would have helped flesh them out and kept them from feeling like a spoiled bunch of middle-class Gen Y’ers discovering death — of people, of relationships, of the recent past — for the first time. Toward the end of the film, though, everything suddenly comes together, and the climactic scene has visceral power.
Visuals incorporate superimpositions, especially at the start, lending a dreamlike intensity in keeping with the destabilizing use of sound. Appropriately, scenes are all shot at night, adding a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” element that resonates in the forest setting and the potent sense of memory.