Night (Noche): Rotterdam Review

Intermittent flashes of exciting talent and superbly-layered sound design aren't enough to save this uneven film. 

Argentinian writer-director Leonardo Brzezicki's debut descends into self-consciously hip tedium.

The Rotterdam Film Festival prides itself on showcasing notable new filmmakers, and on the uneven evidence of his debut feature Night (Noche) Argentina's Leonardo Brzezicki just about qualifies as a name to watch. But while his excitingly audacious and dream-like opening sequence raises sky-high expectations, the ensuing eighty-odd minutes chart a wayward course through disappointment and increasing frustration. Nevertheless, Night's presence in Rotterdam's Tiger Competition will help propel this Argentinian-Italian co-production to a moderately fruitful career on the festival circuit, especially among events specializing in edgy, youth-oriented fare. The prominent presence in the creative team of Alexis Dos Santos, writer-director of hipster favorites Glue (2006) and Unmade Beds (2009), here working as production designer, also won't do any harm in terms of the picture's exposure.

And while Brzezicki is himself a newcomer, he's wisely teamed up with veteran sound designer Leandro de Loredo, who has more than 100 credits to his name, including Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes and Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro. De Loredo's contributions are foregrounded from the spectacular curtain-raiser, in which we see a lone star hanging in a dark sky above a foggy forest and hear extracts from what sounds like an audio-diary compiled on lo-fi cassette tape: "sounds from inside a church ... I am on a train in Berlin ..."

The contrast between the placid visuals and jagged audio is an arrestingly sharp and effective one, and is explained by the fact that the central figure in the film's narrative is himself a sound designer and sound recordist, Miguel (Jair Jesus Toledo.) We gradually learn that the lugubrious Miguel, seen in (unannounced) flashbacks, has committed suicide some time before, and that six of his closest friends have gathered to mourn his passing in the remote farmhouse where he lived and worked. The area around the farmhouse is dotted with loudspeakers, which broadcast samples from Miguel's work day and night as his pals drift around in various stages of numbed reverie. Brzezicki doles out information with austere parsimoniousness, so that we're never quite sure who's who, or what they mean to each other, or the precise nature of their connection with the late Miguel. As the gay Miguel's galpal-in-chief Violeta, Flavia Noguera makes the biggest impact among a cast of toothsome twentysomethings.

The premise suggests some kind of cross between Lawrence Kasdan's seminal The Big Chill and Peter Strickland's 2012 festival-circuit hit Berberian Sound Studio, but Brzezicki is much more interested in mood and ambience than character and plot. It's no surprise to learn that Night was originally planned as a short, as there's the distinct sense that we're experiencing an ornate, intricate calling-card stretched to feature length with predictably unfortunate consequences. It doesn't help that Brzezicki wears his influences so very prominently on his fashion-conscious sleeve: David Lynch, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Andrei Tarkovsky, Philippe Grandrieux and, most inescapably, Carlos Reygadas are the evident touchstones for this doom-laden exercise in dourly modish aesthetics.

Max Ruggieri's cinematography, like the movie as a whole, is most impressive when it breaks free of storytelling considerations and floats into sensually experimental realms of multi-layered, painterly palimpsest. But while such sequences can hold the attention for a few minutes at a time, there's little sense that Brzezicki or his producer-cum-editor and fellow feature-debutant Filip Gsella are yet aware how to properly assemble them into a coherent whole. The results, even at 92 minutes, make this Night feel long, uneven and more restless than rewarding.

Venue: Rotterdam Film Festival (Competition), January 29, 2013.

Cast: Flavia Noguera, Jair Jesus Toledo, Maria Soldi, Nadyne Sandrone, Gaston Re, Julian Tello, Pablo Matias Vega 

Production companies: Rewind My Future, Asmara Films

Director / Screenwriter: Leonardo Brzezicki

Producers: Leonardo Brzezicki, Ginevra Elkann, Filip Gsella

Director of photography: Max Ruggieri

Music: Ismael Pinkler

Production designer: Alexis Dos Santos

Editor: Filip Gsella

Sales agent: Rewind My Future, Buenos Aires

No MPAA rating, 92 minutes