thu 18/04/2024

You and the Night | reviews, news & interviews

You and the Night

You and the Night

Love, death and loneliness in very French tale of style and sex

Waiting for Cocteau: leads Kate Moran, Niels Schneider, and, on sofa, Nicolas Maury

At the risk of endorsing national stereotypes, I’ll still describe Yann Gonzalez’ feature debut You and the Night as a very French film. Its appearance in Critics’ Week at Cannes last year brought comparisons with Francois Ozon and Pedro Almodovar for a combination of style and sex, arguably at the expense of substance.

And you can’t help feeling that the ghosts – it’s a work very much concerned with ghosts and fantasies – of Cocteau and Genet are lurking somewhere too.

Gonzalez’ opening scene, as a woman is driven by a mysterious motorcyclist (pictured, below right) away from a figure she's trying to save, makes clear that part of the film’s action is going to exist beyond the usual borders of reality. But then it all returns to a rather bourgeois world in which a couple and their maid are preparing for some festivity, awaiting guests: the French title is Les Rencontres d'après minuit, or “Encounters after Midnight”.

Atmosphere, as you may have gathered, is stronger than script

The tone of what this gathering is set to be is defined gradually, not least by the fact that maid Udo (Nicolas Maury) is in drag, and seems as much the mistress, the one in control, as her masters, the glamorous Ali (Kate Moran, Gonzalez’ muse through many of his acclaimed short films) and drop-dead handsome Matthias (Niels Schneider, best known from his work with Xavier Dolan), complete with black eyepatch (the three together, main picture). A feeling of high-camp sex is in the air, duly confirmed by the first arrival, the Slut (Julie Bremond) – the guests here come with professional monikers rather than names. She’s followed by the Stud (Eric Cantona, yes, the footballer) along with the Teen (Alain Fabien Delon, whose cinema ancestry speaks for itself, in his first role), and finally, timorously, the Star (Fabienne Babe).

It’s not only the drinks that little-black-dressed Udo is trying to serve that set the encounter going: there’s what’s called a “sensory juke-box” in one corner, which seems to read the mood of whoever’s playing it by colour, and prompt them into telling a story that takes us back into their past, away from the immediate context. Though the mood certainly stays sexual in the case of Cantona’s bear-like character, who tells how the size of his member (variously referred to, to keep bathos going, as the “treasure in your trouser” or “pork sword”) drove him away from childhood dreams of poetry, and continues with what he's been getting up to more recently (no surprise at an 18 rating here). Teen tells a tale of, well, teenage escape, while Slut is concerned with memories of a mother, and Star of a son.

So far, so pretentious, many may be feeling, though lensing by Simon Beaufils is certainly attractive, never more so than when we discover the truth about our hosts themselves. The history of Ali and Matthias, lovers over the ages before death separated them, brings us into virtual rom-zom territory – you’re never quite sure how much the undoubtedly “com” element is intentional. Udo the maid, in his/her previous gypsy harlot mode, had raised Matthias from the dead, and settled the trio into an eternal companionship of love against loneliness that will last as long only as the love is strong.     

Atmosphere, as you may have gathered, is stronger than script, and it comes most of all from the score by group M83 (fronted by the director’s brother, Anthony Gonzalez). After a first hour of inaction, in which the interior rules of time and place seem strictly observed, not a moment too soon we head outside into an almost black and white, snowy night world. Some sort of emotional companionship, however temporary, seems to be confirmed there, to set against all those past sadnesses. Viewers may find poetry here, or may have long abandoned the film completely. Which would be a shame because Gonzalez manages a final extended scene of genuine power. As dawn breaks and the sun appears over snow, the words and emotions become intensely real. It leaves you wondering what the director will achieve next time, if he starts with material that’s slightly less elliptical. 

Overleaf: watch the trailer for You and the Night





The history of Ali and Matthias, lovers over the ages before death separated them, brings us into virtual rom-zom territory


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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