'All These Sleepless Nights': Sundance Review

More striking as an exercise in cinematic style than as a generational portrait.

Polish director-cinematographer Michal Marczak explores the many-splendored excesses of youth in his Warsaw odyssey.

Michal Marczak takes a dreamlike plunge into the freedoms and uncertainties of self-infatuated youth in All These Sleepless Nights. The loose-limbed nonfiction narrative follows two male friends over a year of nocturnal wandering through the party scene and dance clubs of a contemporary Warsaw oblivious to history. Tipping its hat to the French New Wave, the film brings impressive stylistic and thematic cohesion to its hedonistic haze, with fluid images, a trippy tone and a flavorful soup of sonic textures. But after a while it might make you feel like a sober person in a crowd of blissed-out stoners.

Audiences likely to remain intoxicated for the longest time by this distinctly European hybrid of documentary and drama will be those closest in age to the twentyish subjects.

Krzysztof is first seen watching fireworks out of his apartment window, drawing sketchy analogies between the exploding showers and the experiences of his young lifetime. After breaking up with his girlfriend of five years, he makes a pact with his well-heeled buddy Michal to let the energy of their desires carry them where it will. The destinations range from tight underground tunnels, where they feel the rush of trains passing at arm's length, to house parties and all-night raves in city squares and numerous other outdoor locations.

Shooting most of the action at night or in soft pre-dawn light, Marczak's limber camera weaves among the throbbing crowds with a sinuousness that often echoes the unfettered dance moves of his subjects. And editor Dorota Wardeszkiewicz keeps pace with the pic's constantly shifting rhythms.

The two friends' carefree euphoria hits a bump when Krzysztof takes up with Michal's ex, Eva, causing friction that suggests a Jules and Jim-type romantic triangle. However, that new connection is revealed to be as ephemeral as the high from a line of coke. When Krzysztof is asked what he does, he replies, "I look for what I'm missing." But the solipsistic nature of that quest is also the film's limitation, giving it nowhere very interesting to go once the focus has been established.

The eclectic selection of dance music and vintage French pop provides a lush carpet for all the free-floating revelry, with its rich sense of place and mood. But hearing Francoise Hardy's '60s hit, "Tout les garcons et les filles," evokes the 1994 multi-director decade-by-decade French telefilm series about youth, which took its umbrella title from that song. (Andre Techine's Wild Reeds was the most widely seen of them.)

What those movies had that's lacking here is perspective. Marczak's unselfconscious subjects appear nostalgic for their evanescent youth, but despite their headlong immersion into its visceral pleasures, they have little to say about it beyond that it's cool. Their supposed big ideas mostly tend toward naively romanticized self-celebration, which may in itself be meaningful in a country whose past was so shaped by oppression. But even if the immediacy of the director's approach gives the material an electric charge, 100 minutes of it becomes monotonous.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Documentary Competition)
Production companies: Endorfina Studio, Pulse Films
Cast: Krzysztof Baginski, Michal Huszcza, Eva Lebuef

Director-writer: Michal Marczak
Producers: Marta Golba, Michal Marczak, Julia Nottingham, Lucas Ochoa, Thomas Benski

Executive producers: Maxyne Franklin, Minette Nelson, David Eckles, Robert Serek
Directors of photography: Michal MarczakMaciej Twardowski

Editor: Dorota Wardeszkiewicz
Sales: Submarine

Not rated, 100 minutes