Cinema, perhaps more than any other art form, has explored, celebrated and romanticised the night and all its manifold, mystical shades. From film noir to the poetic realism of Alain Resnais, from the dark dystopia of Terry Gilliam to the nightmarish midnight encounters of David Lynch, right down to the elegant reveries of Woody Allen to the stylish, ultra-sleek, after-dark escapades of Nicolas Winding Refn, nightfall has both seduced and enraptured filmmakers of our time more than any other human hour. The sun sets, the lights fade and the imagination begins. Cinema isn’t set in the dark for nothing. It’s the perfect setting to Yann Gonzalez’s You and the Night – a seemingly raunchy French orgy movie that soon transforms into a cinematically aware and breathtakingly soulful paean to nocturnal existentialism. It’s a film that dedicates most of its running-time to darkness and all its psychosexual manifestations. Even the title refers to the night as the other being. Here, it becomes another character – the elusive one that all others seek refuge in and take comfort in its elegiac arms, a confidante to all wistful strangers and lonely misfits. A few movies have embodied the night ravishingly before, but perhaps rarely as philosophically and aesthetically sublime as Gonzalez’s film, a debut work borne out of collaboration with the director’s music-composer brother Anthony Gonzalez, he of stellar M83 band fame.[divider]+[/divider]
Cinema isn’t set in the dark for nothing. It’s the perfect setting to Yann Gonzalez’s You and the Night – a seemingly raunchy French orgy movie that soon transforms into a cinematically aware and breathtakingly soulful paean to nocturnal existentialism.[divider]+[/divider]
For throughout You and the Night‘s absurd, abstract yet quietly subversive styling, the kitsch becomes unabashedly affectionate, the trashy premise metamorphose into something deep. That the outrageously contrived midnight orgy we’ve come to expect, billed as a French ‘sex comedy’, transforms into a deeply moving rendezvous of heartaches, confessions, loneliness and the pain of living. These seven individuals – introduced a la The Breakfast Club via The Rocky Horror Show, replete with sobriquets such as The Stud, The Slut, The Teen, The Star – gather together for an exercise of blasé carnality. But what is initially intended to be a fleeting seven-way fuck becomes a long evening of intimate bildungsroman, as each one weaves their personal stories, their innermost fears and desires, and at the same time breaking down barriers – age, gender, class, time.
And yet, this isn’t a pity party. The film, rather heartbreakingly, peels layers of personal solitude, artfully creating flashbacks as if they were performance art. As it turns out, caricatures are merely masks, armours used against misery. The Slut is haunted by her mother’s ghost and her own obsolescence, the Star by her own ageing and private transgression, the Stud by the burden of his own cock and its insatiability (no matter how laughable that sounds), the Teen by his wretched lone-wolf life. Even the film’s central ménage-a-trois – insignificantly affluent, perennially woebegone couple Ali and Matthias along with their self-appointed, tiara-touting transvestite maid Udo whose story transcends time and human sadness – are all plagued by the emptiness of their own existence. Each one bears such deep melancholy that when the sex finally happens, the screen becomes alive with tenderness, aching empathy and beautiful sorrow.
All of it are tailoured to M83’s phenomenal bespoke score – 80’s electro-synths undulating with sweeping hymns, providing an emotional undertow to the proceedings. A standout scene involves the characters escaping into the night of their imaginations, as crashing waves of euphoria and sadness wash over the scene, followed by a highly emotional finale, which sublimate syrupy sentiment into a genuinely heartfelt plea for companionship. Niels Schnieder, Nicolas Maury, Fabienne Babe, Alain Delon Jr. (in his screen debut) and Eric Cantona, who gamely plays an otherwise one-note role with cocky relish, all shine in their moments, but it’s Kate Moran who gives off a surreal pang of quiet anguish, channelling between the beautiful ennui of Monica Vitti and chic melancholia of The Velvet Underground’s Nico. It’s Moran we see in the film’s hyper-stylised dream prologue, crying out into the night for her lover, and the tear-strained ending, wrecked by the fear of facing the lonely crack of dawn. She owns the pronoun in You and the Night, and rightfully so. The mournful, faded, loyal yet inculpable lover who stands the test of time, coming out at the other end weary and yet still willing to love at her fullest. Romanticism isn’t dead. It just needs a little resurrection.