Ali and Mathias are planning an orgy, but before the fun can begin, the participants must get to know each other first. One by one, they tell their stories in director Yann Gonzalez’s “You and the Night,” transporting audiences to artificial spaces that stand in for fantasy and memory. Though this alternately sensuous and silly pastiche borrows more than it invents, indications suggest Gonzalez may be the next Almodovar or Ozon (a budding Araki, at least), heralding the arrival of a new gay-cinema darling amid his cast of pretty young things, which includes the feature debut of Alain Fabien Delon.
It was bound to happen: After nearly a decade of hearing up-and-coming directors extol the influence of 1970s American movies on their work, we can finally discern the imprint that ’80s culture made on the subsequent generation of storytellers (such as Xavier Dolan, from whom Gonzalez steals golden-haired boy-god Niels Schneider to play the eyepatched Mathias). The influence of that period isn’t always positive, shifting the priority from well-rounded, warts-and-all characters to superficial aesthetics and a certain pseudo-punk sensibility, but it’s a sexy space in which to stage psychosexual mind games, even if the material sometimes suffers.
Opening with an ultra-stylized camp image stolen either from Kenneth Anger or Alain Robbe-Grillet, the film witnesses Gonzalez’s muse, Kate Moran (who plays Ali), stolen from Mathias by an anonymous biker — a soap-bubble dream that pops into the equally unreal world these two young lovers share with their transvestite maid (Nicolas Maury). Retreating from the cold exterior into the sterile, stage-like safety of their apartment, the trio await the arrival of their four guests: the Slut (Julie Bremond), the Teen (Delon), the Stud (Eric Cantona) and the Star (Fabienne Babe).
This could be the setup for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Clue” or any number of remote gatherings of mismatched guests, though these ravenous souls have deliberately come in search of a group-sex thrill and will leave transformed by the experience, reassembled into a misfit family of sorts (like an X-rated “The Breakfast Club,” to borrow a reference from the pic’s press notes). Naturally, the erotic undercurrent — which manifests itself in several arthouse-appropriate zingers — limits the film to a relatively small audience, but then, how many people were ever going to line up to see what one might describe as a psychosexual “No Exit” for the MTV generation?
The trouble with “You and the Night” (whose original French title means “Meetings After Midnight”) is that it’s more conceptual than immediate, and yet Gonzalez’s sensibility isn’t poetic enough to pull it off — at least, not yet. There’s no urgency to the proceedings and no obvious direction in which things are going, leaving audiences to trust that its still-unproven director will take them somewhere of interest (by the midway point, the film’s standing-room-only screening in the Cannes market was 95% empty).
The titillation factor should be enough for some, paying off royally with the revelation of the monstrous appendage that set a prepubescent poet on his path to becoming the Stud, for example. Still, what little emotion the pic manages to stir results almost entirely from the entrancing electronic score by M83 (the French group responsible for “Oblivion”). Tech credits are somewhat lacking, particularly in the pic’s too-hollow sound design, though the low-budget aesthetic is on par with that first wave of Sundance-made indies that arrived from 1989 forward. With greater resources — and a better script — Gonzalez would surely shine.