‘A Moonless Night’ (‘Una Noche sin Luna’): San Sebastian Review

Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
Empathy makes up for predictability in this refreshingly straightforward tale

Minor-key three-part drama about lonely lives playing out in rural Uruguay

One night in the lives of four differently lonely, ungrounded souls is portrayed with delicacy and gentle wit in A Moonless Night, a quietly appealing Uruguayan/Argentinian three-parter that may be just a little too modest for its own good. Shot and played with a refreshing directness, and utterly unpretentious if predictable in its rendering of unfortunates seeking temporary happiness, the film plays out a little like three Raymond Carver stories relocated and reworked for the screen. It’s combination of melancholy undertow and wry charm mean that despite its first-timer flaws, it lingers gently in the mind, with Night deserving to shine at Spanish-themed festivals.

The film is set in a backwoods area in Uruguay, just the kind of suitable nowhere location for tackling the theme of rootless lives. The power cuts which kick in every few minutes, thereby plunging this moonless night into total darkness, are the thread which unites the three stories.

Luckless and loveless taxi driver Cesar (Marcel Keroglian) spends New Year’s Eve with the new family of his former wife, having picked up a black eye along the way. He’s there to spend some time with his daughter Lucia, who he takes her to a local funfair at which on New Year’s Eve they’re the only clients. The power cuts out with the two of them sitting at the top of the big wheel, the father unable to communicate with his daughter.

Communication fares rather better in the second section, which is also the film’s most dynamic and successful for that very reason. Magician Antonio (Roberto Suarez) is traveling to the local fiestas with his white rabbit Oliver to perform when his car breaks down. He walks to the toll booth at the border where he encounters Laura (Argentinian stand-up comedienne Elisa Gagliano). Laura has been posted there to ‘trap’ people, she explains, who are not using the main highway. But it becomes clear that it’s the young widow herself who is trapped, before things work up to a final scene of real emotional charge.

Finally, we see the preparations for a concert by singer-songwriter Molgota (Argentinian singer Daniel Melingo), released for a day from jail -- he’s there for unspecified reasons -- to be able to play at the fiesta. Taciturn and secretly wounded, Molgota may be Night’s most isolated character -- but come the ends of the evening his voice, though his music, will have been heard.

The script has nice way with the ironic juxtaposition: Suarez’s features, which have a hint of Steve Buscemi about them, are more reminiscent of a stereotyped Latino thug than a magician, especially one whose best friend seems to be a white rabbit. Likewise, as Laura, unjaded despite the bad hand life has dealt her, fumbles with a gun in a drawer, we hope that this might be the kind of film in which she doesn’t have to use it, which it turns out to be.

Mostly negotiating with skill the fine lines between real emotion and sentimentality and between sharp observation and mere quirkiness, Tejeira’s script nevertheless sometimes strays into the the wrong areas, particularly during Cesar’s scenes as the camera lingers intently on his hopelessness, overemphasizing his isolation. Likewise there’s some strained nonsense about UFOs which could have been cut. Laura’s learning Chinese, too, strikes an awkward, false note, and the silences in some scenes feel unjustifiably long.

The score by Bruno Boselli and Gaston Otero is appropriately downbeat, while Tom Waits’ tender ballad Lullaby plays over one sequence, its tone of innocent yearning perfectly embodying the mood of this charming little film.

Production company: Raindogs Cine, Cine El Calefon
Cast: Daniel Melingo, Elisa Gagliano, Roberto Suarez, Marcel Keroglian
Director, screenwriter: German Tejeira
Producer: Julian Goyoaga, Juan Maristany
Director of photography: Magela Crosignani
Editors: Julian Goyoaga, German Tejeira
Composer: Bruno Boselli, Gaston Otero
Sales: Raindogs Cine

No rating
80 minutes