Love flits by and vanishes like headlights on the Hollywood freeway in Gregory Hatanaka’s personal but muddied first feature, “Until the Night.” The collapse of two Los Angeles couples’ lives is studied under Hatanaka’s deliberately claustrophobic lens, but the filmmaking lacks the precision to create a thoroughly convincing or bracing experience. More stylistically radical than most Yank pics on the fest track, this intimate drama will need lusty critical support to boost visibility.
Hatanaka has publicly declared his intention was to make a Cassavetes film, and the influence of the pioneering actor-director’s concerns for intimate emotions, male-female impasses and wide-ranging improv sequences are unmistakable. Another unacknowledged influence is surely Hou Hsiao-hsien (particularly “Millennium Mambo” and “Goodbye South, Goodbye”); shooting strategy in mini DV (with d.p. Yasu Yanida) that trains long lenses on each actor and then follows them around as they move is initially exciting to watch, suggesting what a Hou film set in the U.S. might look like.
It’s a method, though, that can only be sustained with exceptional actors and potent moods, and neither surfaces in “Night.” Training his amateur vid camera on g.f. Mina (Missy Crider), Robert (Norman Reedus) tries to probe with his toy what he can’t seem to do with his heart. Business exec Beth (Kathleen Robertson) has a more destructive relationship with her constantly unemployed actor-beau Daniel (Michael T. Weiss), whose drive places him in the Type C male category. Mina thinks Robert has an “unhealthy fascination” with female actors, while Daniel correctly deems himself a failure. These are two couples whose expiration date is yesterday.
Beth runs into Robert after a brief fling with a co-worker (Boyd Kestner). Revelations that they broke off a relationship three years prior is a bit neat, but also seals the film’s sense of people in a big city who are isolated from the rest of the world.
Hatanaka allows his actors to explore a scene, which would be thrilling with more exploratory actors. Reedus reveals a man without a compass, but not for a moment does his Robert seem the sort who would have ever attracted either Mina or Beth. Robertson and Crider are more willing than able to accomplish pic’s adventurous mission. Sean Young appears in a brief, somewhat pointless scene as a Hollywood party host and apparent mother figure to Robert.
Lensing confirms that image resolution, always a problem in vid, has notably improved in latest generation of small digital cameras. Sound recording and mix were rough in the print digitally projected in screening for American Cinematheque’s Alternative Screen series.