Review: Night Has Come – Fantastic Fest 2019

Peter von Goethem’s experimental, verse-like docufiction employs archival footage from the Royal Belgian Film Archive, but it relies on a voiceover narration to tell much of its story of a man losing his memories due to a dubious virus.

It is a clever combination of audio and visual, although the two do not always align to provide something valuable. As the narrative progresses further into its fiction, the narration gets increasingly lost in its pedantic circularity. The man spins lines about existential isolation and governmentally-imposed memory loss, and it becomes less insightful as it goes, getting lost in vaguery and abstraction.

But there is an undeniable beauty to the film’s construction—the crackly visual track with its brittle transitions; the sleepy tenor of the narrator, broken up by the spontaneous dissonance of the soundtrack. It is entrancing, if not to a fault.

“I still remember a brief sound, like glass cracking,” the narration begins, first over black and then over the film’s first image: a vast, empty plot of land marked by the blackened ground and the soft breeze pulling dust into the air. “Inside my head it felt warm and black.”

This shows the poeticism of the narration. There are turns of phrases which are gorgeous to the ear, accompanied by visuals that are equally beautiful or conversely haunting. Night Has Come is an intensely sensory experience; sonic power rages over the soundtrack and the languid voiceover provides juxtaposition. The two clash then subside then clash again, like waves rolling in and out of tide against your ears.

These waves and the images that come with them act as ethereal remnants of forgotten people and places, memories only partially remembered. This struggle for memory and to find purpose in these fragments is fascinating.

The issue is that the languidness is too strong. The hypnotic nature of the film takes you in and then spits you out too soon. The film is only 56 minutes in length, but it draws itself out at every chance, making the experience feel like it takes place in a timeless space. This timelessness is in itself an impressive feat for director Goethem, but it is also the biggest viewing hurdle. The first 25 minutes or so feel like a contained narrative unit, but the narrative keeps stretching past this point. As it continues trailing on, attention becomes a chore. This is an ingrained aspect of pacing, but instead of forcing the audience to become more active it invites them to drift into passivity. A sleepy, languid passivity.

Night Has Come has some poetic and cinematic import. The integration of archival film begs to be studied further (my knowledge of the Royal Belgian Film Archive is very minimal). But even at 56 minutes it feels too lengthy. The pacing is too languid. At too many points, the narration is too obtuse. Unfortunately, this sinks what is otherwise a beautiful sensory experience.

 

Night Has Come: B-

 

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

 

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