Tuesday, April 22, 2014

After the Night (Até Ver a Luz) (2014) directed by Basil de Cunha

After the Night, a 95 minute gangland adventure from a first-time director, initially feels like a promising proposition. This is usually a recipe for lean, muscular cinema; low budget film-making with a reliance on urban flavour, smart dialogue and interesting characters over expensive action sequences and flashy camera techniques. The problem is that After the Night isn't lean and muscular at all.  It's flabby, ponderous and frustrating, a meandering tension-free bundle of just-plain-boring.

Set in the creole slums of Lisbon we follow Sombra (Pedro Ferreria), a solitary, numb and dreadlocked small time drug dealer. The story opens with the local gangsters discovering their stash has been stolen, understandably furious they look for someone to blame. Their eyes fallon Sombra, who to be fair to the gangsters does spend most of the film acting pretty shady.  The rest of the film shows an increasingly tight noose forming around Sombra's neck as he tries to claw back money owed to him, pay off the furious gangsters and care for his pet iguana. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a pretty promising set-up, it's film noir 101 for sure - but transplanting that into modern Lisbon could just maybe give it a fresh edge.

The slums form a pretty damn miserable backdrop.  These characters are all first or second generation African immigrants, and it seems as if this is a little slice of urban Africa transplanted into the middle of Europe.  Exposed rebar juts from a thousand crumbling concrete walls, the corrugated iron roofs creak metallically overhead and, for the most part, the police are nowhere to be found. 

De Cunha's characters (particularly Sombra) are at one with this environment. They constantly sneak along walls, pad across rooftops and burrow into gloomy holes - everyone having their own relationship with the neighbourhood, especially the local band, who've fashioned their instruments from the detritus around them. At bare minimum this is a relatively unique environment for cinema, though obviously influenced by Brazilian favela crime dramas (particularly City of God). But interesting though this location initially is, under de Cunho's lens it gets pretty samey pretty fast. 

That's small fry in comparison to the colossal problems in the pacing of this film. It drags on and on (and on) with very little happening, almost every scene able to be trimmed down to half its length without any damage done to the coherency. Much of this is due to the improvised nature of the script, which is a theoretically a ticket to naturalistic cinema but in practice means the dialogue goes in endless circles.

De Cunha seems to be going for a zoned out, trippy structure, with a slightly mischievous edge to his style.  He pulls directorial stunts - for example when his hero is stalking across a rooftop, machete in hand, ready to wreak bloody violence on his foes - he randomly runs into a friend and stops for a relaxed 5 minute chat about lanterns. I can almost respect the ballsiness of a director who confounds and teases his audience - but if you were the passenger in a car de Cunha was driving he'd suddenly slam on the brakes, causing your head to bonk off the dashboard. He'd probably laugh too.

By the mid-point you realise there's more digression than actual plot.  I tried my best to re-evaluate what I was seeing, trying to work out what the director was going for and coming up short.  Matters aren't helped by a protagonist whose emotions range from unconscious to staring blankly into space.  Sombra gives us next to no reason to care about his plight, just sticking in a kind of deranged, detached drugged outness for the entire run-time.  With this yawning chasm of charisma at the centre of the film the character who I found myself caring most about was a damn iguana.

Still, Sombra's subdued passivity is at least quiet, unlike the long, semi-improvised scenes with the gangsters. If you've ever wanted to see a bunch of angry guys yelling at each other in indecipherable accents then boy this is the film for you.  Apart from it being difficult to tell what's going on (even with subtitles) I was just worn down by the constant screaming. Being numbed by aggressive dialogue isn't necessarily a bad thing, but here I was just annoyed - checking my watch and getting that sinking feeling when I realised there's at least 40 minutes more of this to go.  My fellow audience members clearly felt the same way, at least half the cinema leaving in dribs and drabs as it became increasingly apparent that this wasn't going to get any better. 

I was envious of those that left and very tempted to get out of there myself - but I don't feel right criticising a film without watching the whole thing.  So my suffering was on your behalf - and I report back that After the Night is an unrewarding, annoying and very very boring film that's difficult to enjoy on any conceivable level. 

After the Night is on general release from April 25th

Tags: , , , , ,

0 Responses to “After the Night (Até Ver a Luz) (2014) directed by Basil de Cunha”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights