Philly Fest Report: Black Night (Nuit Noir) Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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I'm quite certain that all those pretty pictures in Olivier Smolders Nuit Noir must mean something but as for what that might be, I have no clue whatsoever ...

A dark, surreal film that taps into the creepier side of the subconscious Nuit Noir is gorgeously photographed with a virtually non-stop barrage of beautiful, unsettling imagery, but is so thoroughly inscrutable on first viewing - my guess is this will take at least three to really begin to unpack - that it makes for difficult viewing.

Oscar is an insect specialist at a local museum founded by his father. He spends his evening stending to the cages of eggs, pupa and grubs in his home before taking the full grown specimens to the museum by day, bound for the killing jar and display boards. And when I say 'day' I mean only the period of time between 9 AM and 5 PM, which in Oscar's world is otherwise indistinguishable from the night because the world receives only fifteen seconds of sunlight per day. Museum management occassionally reads poetry over the institution's PA system. Oscar's therapist peers into his ear through a metal funnel to see his dreams acted out on a puppet theater stage. There are sets of twins everywhere. Oscar believes he killed the sister that his therapist says he never had in the first place and, thus, could not have killed. And one day Oscar returns home from work to find a naked, feverish, African woman in his bed. The next day she's pregnant. The next day she's dead, possibly killed by the ghost of Oscar's non-sister. The next day the blankets Oscar shrouded her in have turned to a coccoon. The next day she is born as a beautiful, naked, young white woman whom Oscar promptly beds. How long will it take him to remember that female insects frequently eat their mates?

And here you see the dilemma in talking about - and viewing - a film such as this. Imagery? A plus. Coherent, linear plot? Not applicable. Nuit Noir is a continual stream of metaphors, layers upon layers of images, all of which mean something other than the literal and the trick is puzzling it out, which is no mean feat as the stream never slows down enough to give you time to think. Names such as Svankmajer, Lynch and Quay were being bandied about the theater and on a visual level fans of Gilliam and Jeunet will find a kindred spirit in Smolders.

Surreal is one word for it. Dream-like, another. Pretentious is one many will apply, though I hestitate to go there myself before working at the puzzle a little longer. After all, it's only pretense if you don't have the goods to back it up. All indications are that Smolders does, it's just up to me to catch up.

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Michael GuillenJuly 25, 2007 2:07 PM

Todd, did you ever watch this film again to glean further insight? I watched it for the first time this evening to incorporate into my first write-up for SF's Fantastic Film Festival. I'll probably watch it once more to try to get some kind of handle and then a third time in the theater itself to see it in its full visual glory. Of the screeners I've seen so far, this is by far the most intriguing.