Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Nocturnal habits: "After the Night"

After the Night is one of those occasions where a filmmaker has had the noble idea to transport us to a place we're unlikely to have seen ourselves, only to default on any worthwhile agenda once we're there: instead of a grand tour, we end up stranded, desperately hoping for something exciting or engaging to pass. The location is a Creole-speaking suburb in Lisbon, with streets and sidestreets that look too impoverished to form part of a modern European capital: home to shacks and rubble, in the middle of which there is apparently nothing to do save to sit around, drink beer, and - in the absence of much in the way of gainful employment - wonder where the next dollar is coming from. Sombra (Pedro Ferreira) is a low-level hood whose only real friend is a pet iguana: unable to meet his vig payments, we join him as he begins his next session of begging, borrowing and stealing, and we're stuck following him after he's shot in the robbery he drifts into, and is cast out of even this lowly scene.

Director Basil da Cunha dwells on the appearance of Sombra's fellow hoodlums, eyeing up their sports jackets, tattoos and piercings, and in the case of one hulk, a battery-powered artificial limb. Yet as the narrative drifts into inertia, it's hard to banish the thought this young filmmaker, a sometime bouncer, has taken to fetishising these brutes, rather than revealing anything specific to their lives. Mostly, After the Light operates on or about the same sluggish and shambling level as its protagonist: what tension there is here involves da Cunha stirring his non-professional supporting players into picking fights with one another, and you soon realise this doesn't really require all that much effort. It's staked out its own piece of turf, certainly, yet still feels wholly inchoate: a rough draft of a movie, laying down the groundwork for a directorial project that might only truly merit paying for another two or three films down the line.

After the Night opens in selected cinemas from Friday. 

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