Belgian filmmaker Olivier Smolders, after a successful run of gorgeous and disturbing shorts, here makes a feature debut that is just as gorgeous and disturbing. Strongly reminiscent of the works of David Lynch, but far darker overall, the film is set at a time when the world is shrouded in the night of a perpetual eclipse. Day only comes for 15 seconds at 12:23 pm each day. Oscar (Fabrice Rodriguez) is a museum entomologist haunted by traumatic dreams involving the death of a sister who might or might not have every existed. He returns home one night to find a dying and pregnant African woman in his bed, a woman who is somehow linked to his father’s colonial past.
Trying to summarize the film’s plot is like trying to describe a dream: either case involves imposing linearity where none exists. Don’t try to figure out exactly what is going on here. Think of it as fevered nightmare inflected by guilt of Belgium’s gruesome colonial history, served up as a stunningly beautiful meditation on death, sex and insects.
Smolders pays as much attention to the sound as he does the images. The sound design is enveloping, both sensual and unnerving, and the audio on the disc is as rich, deep and sinister as one could hope. The dialogue is always perfectly clear, the environment is excellent (utterly silent one moment, filled with insect calls the next), and the music is powerfully rendered.
These are colours to die for (or, put another way, colours that render death as lovely as it is horrible). The blacks are positively abyssal, as one would hope, and the image is razor sharp. The contrasts are perfect, and a film that takes place in an eternal night is never murky, and always a feast for the eyes. A wonderful transfer by any measure.
An interesting set here. Along with the expected deleted scenes montage and behind-the-scenes footage, there’s an interview with the director (more of an introductory monologue actually) where he describes in detail what he was seeking to achieve here. You won’t hear Michael Bay talking about mises-en-abîme, that’s for sure. “About Black Night” is a short feature that, while further exploring the origins and goals of the film, is quite a provocative piece of art in its own right. There is also the short-slash-trailer for Spiritual Exercises.
Definitely not for all viewers (there are some pretty disturbing images on display here). But the adventurous will be amply rewarded.