At age 50, Eugene Green — who left the U.S. in 1969 to settle in France — proves himself to be the mutant offspring of Robert Bresson and Manoel De Oliveira. First-time scripter-helmer’s exquisite oddity, “Every Night,” shows complete mastery of the austere, formal tradition perfected by his elders, but he makes it his own with bursts of satire and an insistence on crispy anachronistic diction that solemnly honors every last consonant. Pic has been holding its own at the oldest functioning arthouse in Paris since its publicity-free March 28 release, which was announced only via give-away postcards.
The indie effort threw local crix for an ecstatic out-of-left-field loop. Fest programmers should give this odd duck a gander, but Yanks may have to pull teeth to get the director to accompany his pic: Green goes out of his way in interviews to bad mouth his native America as a hopeless cultural backwater.
Updated from a Gustave Flaubert novella posthumously published in 1912, Green’s pic covers 12 years in the lives of its three protagonists, starting in 1967. At 17, two provincial buddies part: Henri (Alexis Loret) is sent to Paris to study for exams; Jules (Adrien Michaux) stays behind to write a play in verse.
Emilie (Christelle Prot), the wife of Henri’s tutor, runs off to the U.S. with Henri. They miss France’s student revolution of May ’68, eventually return to France and go their separate ways. As the years pass, the two men write letters to each other, and Jules and Emilie exchange ardent epistles without ever meeting.
Pic’s incredible over-stylization could have been risible, with lengthy voiceovers, deliberately framed shots of feet and doorways and a sense of visual economy. Though deeply literary, it is at all times completely cinematic and quietly gripping.
Although the two young men barely crack a smile, they do seem to crack the nut of existence. The older Emilie dabbles in so-true-it’s-funny radical feminism en route to finding both herself and inner peace. Deadpan humor about the pitfalls of romance feels a bit like early Hal Hartley — if Hartley made every line of dialogue sound like a phonics lesson.
The cumulative effect of so much stiff ritualistic behavior and strictly pronounced speech — a closing credit thanks the cast “for respecting the French language” — is packed with emotional resonance for those who can accept the venture’s unyielding construct.
Two lead lads are dreamily handsome in their carnal and ethereal pursuits, with Loret a no-nonsense man of action and Michaux more reflective. As the woman, Prot is always fascinating to watch. In addition to beautifully lit and carefully composed interiors, lensing in Paris and Avignon celebrates nature as surely as the script worships the recitative ebb and flow of language.