'Night Shot' ('Vision nocturna'): Film Review

Courtesy of FIDMarseille
Productive chaos.

Chilean director Carolina Moscoso Briceno's debut is an autobiographical examination of her experiences as a victim of rape.

A deliberately disorienting — even bewildering — plunge into a traumatized mind, Carolina Moscoso Briceno's Night Shot (Vision nocturna) is an act of autobiographical cine-therapy also seemingly intended as an unorthodox call for justice. Desiring closure some years after suffering a violent sexual attack in 2009, the Chilean director has assembled a kaleidoscopic portrait of herself, her environment and her daily life through whose jagged prisms we discern the painful psychological fractures wreaked by the assault.

Having nabbed major awards at two of the three Chilean events at which it played last fall and winter — including the country's leading festival, Valdivia, where it took the special jury prize — Night Shot had a COVID-19-truncated domestic theatrical run in March. Four months later, it made a triumphant international bow at FIDMarseille, winning the International Competition at what was billed as the first physical-only festival of the novel coronavirus era.

This high-profile success will doubtless pave the way for further festival exposure, although chances of wider play are restricted by the challenging lo-fi aesthetic that generally prevails. Wherever it is shown, however, Night Shot seems guaranteed to spark considerable debate — not least on the ethical level. At one point Moscoso Briceno unambiguously accuses a certain individual of rape, showing his full name onscreen via a close-up of an official document — even though it has been conclusively established that he cannot now be tried for the offense, due to Chile's statute of limitations.

The alleged assailant, Gary, was a minor of 17 at the time of the incident, his age halving the otherwise decade-long limitation on rape cases. The fact that Gary was never prosecuted at the time was, Moscoso Briceno admits, largely due to her "weaknesses" as a plaintiff. She refused to take a "sexological test," which would likely have extracted her attacker's semen and thus enabled his identification; she failed to turn up for several appointments with legal investigators; when shown photographs by police she could only make an identification with "70 percent" certainty (an assertion she instantly regretted and now regards as inexplicable).

Moscoso Briceno and her co-writer María Paz González are upfront about these developments and crucially put them in a convincing context of entrenched institutional misogyny, exacerbated by astonishing insensitivity. For example, the (female) doctor performing the "sexological test" had been initially reluctant to give Moscoso Briceno a "morning after" contraceptive pill because of a personal opposition to abortion, much to the latter's understandable distress.

The underlying issue implicitly raised is that the legal system — in Chile, but most certainly also elsewhere — expects traumatized victims of serious crimes such as rape to behave in a rational and logical manner in the days and weeks (and months and years) following their brutal, harrowing experience. By so explicitly naming the man whom she accuses of the rape — in a film that played in her country's cinemas, presumably with that identification intact — Moscoso Briceno does not merely leave herself and her producer open to a libel case, she seems to be actively inviting such a development.

Is this her way of obtaining her cathartic "day in court," given that conventional legal avenues are now impassable? Does she expect Gary to come forward and somehow defend himself? Or perhaps the intention is to trigger a national/international debate about the restrictions that rule out Gary's prosecution. In any case, some will take the view that everyone — even an alleged rapist — is innocent until proven guilty, and that cinema is a questionable medium for the airing of such grave accusations.

Moscoso Briceno could, of course, have conveyed the specifics of the case and the issues raised in conventional, sober, consciousness-raising manner. But she takes an aesthetically bold approach. Sections of official documents and photographs are presented bluntly, clinically — in stark and effective contrast to the impressionistic, fragmentary, even hallucinatory style that more generally prevails, accentuated (and unified) by Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo's ominous soundscapes and Camila Moreno's downbeat electronica score.

Capturing glimpses of Moscoso Briceno's life over what looks like a considerable period of years, the many video-diary sequences are usually either out of focus, over-exposed or awkwardly framed, conveying the vibrancy of the everyday as well as the messiness of the director-cinematographer's own slightly chaotic personality. Deploying her own narration from time to time, Night Shot more often parcels out information and subjective testimony via silent, short mid-screen captions.

Editor Juan Eduardo Murillo is perhaps an odd choice for cutting duties here: He's best known for his work work with Maite Alberdi (Tea Time, The Grown-Ups), a relatively well-established Chilean filmmaker whose style — her carefully controlled documentaries are shot somewhat like fictional features — is the polar opposite of Moscoso Briceno's scattershot cine-memoir. Dealing with what was evidently a disparate mountain of footage shot using a range of cameras and cellphones over a decade or more, Murillo achieves some fleeting grace notes of casual beauty, especially when he can draw upon luminous images created using the eponymous "night shot" setting of Moscoso Briceno's camera.

But elsewhere his choices quite often come across as frustratingly arbitrary and unfocused. Then again, the assertively first-person nature of this project means that, aesthetically and editorially, pretty much anything goes — even a certain ragged amateurishness. And if Moscoso Briceno elects to show us nearly three minutes of herself happily frolicking with seals underwater, the very nature of the film compels us to regard this not as self-indulgence but as one of the more joyous stages of her private healing process.

Production company: El Espino Films
Director / Cinematographer / Casting director: Carolina Moscoso Briceno
Screenwriters: María Paz González, Carolina Moscoso Briceno
Producer: Macarena Aguilo Marchi
Editor: Juan Eduardo Murillo
Composer: Camila Moreno
Sound: Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo
Venue: FIDMarseille (International Competition)
Sales: El Espino Films, Santiago, Chile (maguilomar@gmail.com)
In Spanish
No Rating, 80 minutes