You And The Night / Les Rencontres d’Après Minuit (2013)

Les Rencontres d'Après Minuit

After causing a stir in Cannes earlier this year, Yann Gonzalez’s You And The Night is an existential orgy of misfits finding each other after midnight.

You And The Night

Night Moves by Mark Wilshin

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

It’s a strange genre, the French sex comedy. And one the French have all to themselves, with filmmakers such as François Ozon, Cathérine Breillat and Christophe Honoré breaking down the final fusty frontier of decency with films like Young And Beautiful, Sex Is Comedy and Beloved. And if you watch Yann Gonzalez’s debut feature You And The Night with your eyes half-closed, you could almost be watching a Christophe Honoré film, with its stylised visuals and Kate Moran’s passing turn as Chiara Mastroianni. And yet, there’s also a nod to France’s existentialists and iconoclasts – Udo’s drag maid’s outfit reminiscent of Jean Genet’s Les Bonnes, while it’s orgiastic in camera location recalls Sartre’s Huis Clos. Hell is other people, and they’re getting closer.

Matthias (Niels Schneider, of Heartbeats) and Ali (Kate Moran) are an ancient couple that cross time and place. They are bound, it is revealed in flashback, to Udo (Nicolas Maury) – a gypsy transvestite who brings Matthias back from the dead, on the condition that they include him in their relationship. Only Matthias’ eye cannot be healed, a disfigurement he hides behind an eye-patch. Tonight however, the trio have decided to keep their love alive with an orgy – inviting a motley bunch of waifs and horny strays. There’s the Bitch (Julie Brémond), the Stud (Eric Cantona), the Teen (Alain-Fabien Delon) and the Star (Fabienne Babe), each with their own story to tell.

Like Adam and Eve, or the eternal pair in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, Matthias and Ali are an immortal couple – seeing through the centuries together over backdrop sunsets and stageboard graves. And it’s perhaps this insular foreverness that causes them to seek out other people and listen to their stories. There’s a dramatic tension as the spectre of infidelity looms over them – can they remain faithful to each other for decades? Or have they seized an ethereal gift for indifference and forgiveness? But for the most part, they organise and listen – like co-directors of a stage play, awarding each performance with a tenderness or kindness.

For such a restricted set, Gonzalez does well to spike it with interest, creating a futuristic retro empty space where fantasies can be played out. As they each tell their story, the Stud revealing his well-endowed (prosthetic) package, or the Star uncovering her real hair from beneath a wig, a story unfolds beyond the proscenium stage – as the Bitch wanders through a company of naked men, or an imprisoned Stud is aroused and seduced by his female captor and commissar (Béatrice Dalle). One of the best conceits behind You And The Night however is its simple mood jukebox – a palm-scanning wurlitzer that, in divining its challenger’s disposition, fills the room with music and flashing lights.

Visually arresting, You And The Night is nevertheless disappointingly flat. It’s neither funny nor sexy, which, for a sex comedy, make for some awkward viewing. It aims for something metaphorical and metaphysical, but which remains tantalisingly out of reach. And while it works hard to be shocking, its lurid obscenity (“Stab me with your pork sword!”), sexual deviancy and travestism feel childish and dated. Nevertheless, there’s a promise here – an attempt to do something new, bold and exciting. Even on a soberingly small budget. And with passion and such high-profile performers by his side, Yann Gonzalez can only return with a follow-up that turns his Night into day.

You And The Night is released on 3rd October 2014 in the UK

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