A war of the wordless, Thomas Arslan’s Bright Nights is a painfully accurate if unilluminating portrait of the father-son relationship.
Into The Fogby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
There’s a long travelling sequence in Thomas Arslan’s Bright Nights along a road up and down the mountains of Northern Norway, the way forward slowly engulfed in cloud. It’s perhaps a metaphor for the darkest point in the relationship between father (Georg Friedrich) and son Luis (Tristan Göbel) as they embark on a three day hiking trip following the funeral of Georg’s father. Much like the relationship with his own father, Georg’s relationship with his son is fractious and estranged, made worse by Luis’ teenage years – moody, angry and mute. It begins in silence on the plane, after five years of little contact, and as is men’s wont is restricted to grunts, nods, practical matters and recriminations. But it’s not for want of trying. Georg repeatedly attempts to break down the hostility between them, only somehow each attempt falls flat – struggling to find the right way of speaking to his son – no longer a child and not yet a man.
A quietly observational film about fathers and sons, Helle Nächte struggles to provide much enlightenment on this most elusive of all relationships, focusing instead on the diegetic relationship between Georg and Luis and its nebulous emotions, resolved through an insensible fight and a tentative hug. With delicate performances from its two male leads, Bright Nights is a very real depiction of the male relationship. But caught in a wordless conflict, Arslan’s film is torpedoed by its own scenario. As befits its subject of family relationships, Bright Nights lacks a definitive ending to its narrative, but with a backward glance and a faint smile makes nevertheless for a hopeful new beginning.
Bright Nights is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival