A Night Of Knowing Nothing


Reviewed by: Mateusz Tarwacki

A Night Of Knowing Nothing
"An oneiric, sensory and imaginative journey documenting being young in contemporary India." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

There are films that not only tell a story from the life of their protagonist, but also reflect the experience of an entire generation, or even an entire nation. Payal Kapadia’s A Night Of Knowing Nothing is precisely such an oneiric, sensory and imaginative journey documenting being young in contemporary India. It is a portrait of fearful night visions, a postcard from the frontline in the battle for freedom, "a fleeting memory of violence".

A student of the Film and Television Institute of India, L, has been separated from her lover, K. She sends him letters, but these are not simply romantic expressions of longing for the other person. L writes from the point of view of the experience of a person who has been separated not only from a loved one, but also from the perspectives for the future. It is a longing for love, for freedom and for the light of day, because modern India seen through L's eyes is always a gloomy night full of violence, conflicts and mutual incomprehension.

The debuting Indian director gives up the comfort of classic film narrative, tempting viewers with the promise of a sensual dream. However, it is a vision in which, in the ever-denser Indian night of violence, people lose their shapes, turning more and more into shadows. Among the stories of murders and kidnappings on caste and gender grounds, among protests echoing dully in the darkness of the night, hope is in the act of communication – the light of love letters.

L's letters are not only sent to a loved one, they are also letters addressed to viewers, they are a record of struggle against division, a lyrical manifesto of freedom and a register of the experiences of the younger generation. A Night Of Knowing Nothing is aesthetically associated with home movies and old film tapes. Kapadia slowly reveals the next fragments of her black and white vision, focusing on the image as well as on the spoken word. The romantic poetics of the film can be associated with the achievements of Filipino director, Lav Diaz – not only because of the slow, lyrical style of narration, but also for the attempt to capture the essence of being a young Indian.

On the one hand, Kapadia’s film seems to be a good way of conveying a collective, social experience, on the other, however, it is an extremely difficult, demanding and hermetic film. It takes a certain amount of sensitivity and patience – in a word, an effort to accept an Indian director's story. Perhaps there is another lesson from Kapadia's movie, a lesson of empathy that we should remember if we do not want to become wandering shadows in the eternal night.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2021
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A poetic record of the experience of being a young Indian in a land of violence.

Director: Payal Kapadia

Year: 2021

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: India, France

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