'10,000 Nights Nowhere' ('10000 noches en ninguna parte'): Film Review

Valuably ambitious fare which is swooningly lovely, intensely personal, evocative -- and inevitably somewhat pretentious.

The third film from restless auteur Ramon Salazar puts one troubled young man’s dreams and desires onscreen.

10,000 Nights Nowhere signals a radical shift in style for a director whose first two films, the well-received Stones and 20 Centimeters, were focused on women. This time the focus is on a lonely young man dreaming of a brighter life, and while there’s little happening at the level of either plot or character development, Ramon Salazar’s command of his materials generally makes it an engrossing, if somewhat over-extended, viewing experience that mostly avoids the easy accusation that it is self-regarding.

10,000 Nights Nowhere (a reference to all the time this 27-year-old has spent lost in his dreams) is all about psychology, mood and suggestion, with stylistic nods to the early Terrence Malick. Unsettlingly, the film begins with a lengthy dinner table scene in Berlin featuring a menage a trois: painter Claudia (Najwa Nimri, reprising from Stones), Ana (Paula Medina), and Leon (Manuel Castillo), all somewhat stoned and giggly. They’re accompanied by the shy, introverted unnamed Son (Andres Gertrudix), an edgy, shy visitor who doesn’t seem quite to belong there.

The reason for this is that Claudia, Ana and Leon might not in fact exist: although other explanations are available, they are probably figments of the Son’s imagination as he fantasizes about escape from the tedium and horror of his actual existence (calling it a "life" would be stretching things). A worker in a dingy underground garage, he looks the very definition of unhappy repression. Just when we’re starting to wonder why he’s like that, we find the explanation in the form of his mother (Susi Sanchez), who’s just tried to burn down the house, is given to picking up and sleeping with younger men, and an alcoholic who doesn't hesitate to remind the Son and his embittered Sister (Rut Santamaria) that if she drinks, it’s their fault.

So that the Son’s other life is in the mental journeys he makes -- not only to Berlin, where Claudia and Ana, in their own ways, each end up falling for him -- but also to Paris, where he meets a Friend (Lola Duenas, also from Stones), with whom he runs gaily  through the city to music and with whom he has the outlines of a relationship.

If it sounds whimsical and overblown, then some of it is -- particularly in the Paris sections. But then again, there is always a palpable sense of Salazar’s commitment to things. He cares deeply about his unhappy hero and his vividly-rendered dreams, and it is refreshing to see a youngish Spanish filmmaker really trying to find the form that will allow him to tell his story best -- even though, after about an hour, the structure, shuttling between the Son’s fantasies and his reality, starts to wear thin, particularly since this is earnest, soul-searching fare where practically no time has been made for anything resembling comic relief.

While the Son prefers the largely wordless fantasies of the liberation offered by Berlin and the romance offered by Paris, it’s likely that the viewer will prefer the grimly realistic scenes of his Madrid life. There is an awful fascination in watching this dysfunctional family -- neatly paralleled by the happy, freedom-loving Berlin trio -- struggle to stay together under the constant pressure of the mother from hell, powerfully played by Susi Sanchez, throwing herself wholeheartedly into a demanding role. Other performances are strong, with Nimri -- perhaps the highest-profile of the cast members -- also generating some real intensity as she whispers and mutters. Gertrudix, practically omnipresent, is good but struggles against a basic fact that Salazar seems to have forgotten -- that despite all his issues, the Son is actually rather a dull character with whom to spend almost two hours.

Editing is key to bringing the film’s three sections together as the product of the Son’s wandering mind, with flashes and echoes of previous scenes opening up and explaining his troubled psychology.

D.P.s Ricardo de Gracia and Miguel Amoedo are careful to give each section its own tone and color, but basically it’s all about elegant hand-held photography that busily swoops and glides, spending a great deal time on the Son’s intense, otherworldly gaze: visually at least, Gertrudix is a compelling screen presence. The music is key to the mood, and tends towards the tremblingly delicate, whether through the incorporation of a harp or through a hesitant version of "Mr Tambourine Man," performed by Medina: The Cinematic Orchestra’s "To Build a Home" bring things to a potently emotional conclusion.

Production: Elamedia, Encanta Films

Cast: Andres Gertrudix, Lola Duenas, Najwa Nimri, Susi Sanchez, Paula Medina, Manuel Castillo

Director, screenwriter: Ramon Salazar

Producers: Roberto Butragueno, Salazar

Director of photography: Ricardo de Gracia, Miguel Amoedo

Production designer: Alejandro Prieto Barral

Editor: Salazar, Abian Molina

Music: Najwa Nimri, Ivan Valdes Sound: Alvaro Lopez-Arregui

Wardrobe: Clara Bilbao

No rating, 113 minutes