A Night Too Young: Berlin Film Review

Berlinale Film Festival
Smartly-handled innocence-in-peril featurette introduces a promising new writer-director from central Europe.

Smartly-handled innocence-in-peril featurette introduces a promising new writer-director from central Europe.

With a running-time of just an hour, Czech/Slovenian featurette A Night Too Young (Prílis mladá noc) is a pretty good thing in a decidedly small package. A nicely-judged tale of two 12-year-old boys growing up fast one New Year’s Eve in the company of three party-minded adults, it will prove a handy calling-card for 27-year-old director/co-writer Olmo Omerzu. One of the more talked-about titles in a generally low-key Berlinale Forum, its mid-length duration does inevitably confine it to after-dark TV slots and berths at film-festivals specializing in rising talent.

Programming-wise, the obvious tactic is a pairing with the Slovenia-born, Czech-trained Omerzu’s 43-minute The Second Act, which picked up a handful of prizes around Europe in 2008-9. He’s likely to obtain further jury recognition for this intriguing, oblique miniature which mostly unfolds in a nondescript Czech town blanketed with December snows. A chance meeting results in two 12-year-old buddies – never named, and played by chubby-cheeked Vojtěch Machuta and lean Jan Vaši – being asked to buy booze for a trio of adults (a transaction which, as Omerzu no doubt realizes, traditionally plays out the other way round.)

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Katerina (Natálie Řehořová), a twentyish teacher from the boys’ school, has just arrived back from a trip to the mountains with quietly-spoken Stepan (Jiří Černý) and the latter’s gruff older friend David (Martin Pechlát) in tow. The adults drink, smoke, take soft drugs and display smoochy sexual intimacy with each other, half-oblivious to the youngsters’ watchful presence. When one of the lads swigs vodka and promptly throws up all over himself, the kids’ supposedly imminent departure is indefinitely delayed as the clock ticks on past midnight and towards morning…

Most artistically-minded European films – especially Austrian ones - would progress from this set-up into a harrowing spectacle of ruptured innocence, pedophile abuse and/or violent conflict. But Omerzu and his co-writers thankfully plow their own furrow, presenting the grown-ups’ inappropriate behavior in terms of tantalizingly enigmatic, sometimes darkly comic fragments – just as the boys might experience and process it, perhaps. Brief dream-sequences pop up throughout, keeping us off-balance about how much we can trust what we’re seeing.

Though low-key in terms of plot – the main happening is the arrival of a chatty cop (Milan Mikulčik) - A Night Too Young scores highly in terms of atmosphere. Lukáš Milota’s cinematography nimbly navigates the confines of Katerina’s dowdily-decorated, dimly-lit apartment, while Omerzu shows a particularly deft feel for the selection and deployment of mood-enhancing soundtrack music.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 12, 2012.
Production company: endorfilm (co-production with Studio FAMU, Arsmedia)
Cast: Martin Pechlát, Jiří Černý, Natálie Řehořová, Vojtěch Machuta, Jan Vaši, Milan Mikulčik
Director: Olmo Omerzu
Screenwriters: Bruno Hájek, Jakub Felcman, Olmo Omerzu
Producer: Jiří Konečný
Co-producers: Ondřej Šejnoha, Franci Zajc, Boštjan Ikovic
Director of photography: Lukáš Milota
Production designer: Elsje de Bruijn
Costumes: Marjetka Kürner Kalous
Editor: Janka Vlčková
Sales Agent: dndorfilm, Prague
No rating, 61 minutes