Sleepless Night


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Sleepless Night
"It's beautifully executed but in places the act of repetition seems to work against it."

Sleepless Night is an ostensibly simple story: boy and girl have met, married, and are considering having a baby. It's that consideration that the film examines, or rather the silences and other discussions around that decision.

Kun-Jae Jang's film is a drifting piece, wrapped in a kind of hyper-observant obfuscation. There are conversations with mothers, friends, each other, a dotting backwards and forwards in time, and interspersed with talking about choices there are two apparent dream sequences. Complicating matters, however, is that these oneiric odysseys are part of a piece that always seems distanced - it manages ably to highlight the intimacy of a couple who manage brief moments of togetherness between the repetitive grind of their employment, but perhaps too ably reflects the isolating routines of shift work, of late buses and over-time.

Copy picture

As the couple at the heart of the film, Ju-Ryoung Kim and Soo-hyeon Kim convey a tremendous familiarity, all unacknowledged proximity and casual gesture. The ease with which they interact is mirrored in Jang's direction - never forced, never pitched, rarely verging on the openly dramatic. Instead these are minor moods, a slow accretion of incident towards a conclusion.

It's unfair to call the 'dreams' odysseys, they are far more minor than that - a confrontation at work, another over the kitchen sink. Complicating them though is that there is no great signal of them, no locked blue box, no domino mask, no tumbling top. There is a dinner with friends that might be memory, a request for overtime that may be a prediction, stunningly and suddenly a child when there is as yet no choice. In the cyclical nature of their existence there comes a lulling effect, the same unfortunately hypnotic consequence of slowness that weakened Riza, a film similarly about waiting albeit in a markedly different context.

How much of its structure is from the script, how much from subsequent editing is uncertain. It's only in the repetition that we start to get the patterns of the couple, their meals, their jobs, their showers. It's beautifully executed but in places the act of repetition seems to work against it - picture your commute or the walk to your corner shop, the things that are unremarked upon because they are seen every day. That Sleepless Night manages to achieve stealth throught the quotidian is unfortunate, because it's evident it's trying to be reflective rather than boring. The couple may both be working, but the film becomes laborious. It feels much, much longer than its 65 minutes, to the extent that a running time a hair over an hour didn't seem credible to your reviewer.

There's no solid thread through the film's labyrinth, a fair reflection perhaps of life itself but it makes the film difficult in a way that damages the honesty of its portrayals, the often literally naked depiction of a couple. The gaps between real and imagined blur, until a lost bicycle acquires mysteriously symbolic weight. Sleepless Night manages to convey the numbing and flattened affect of much of modern existence, punctuated occasionally by moments of tenderness, humour, basic joys like riding a bicycle quickly. Sadly its flirtation with drabness traps it, until the fatigue it depicts infects the audience. Perhaps most tellingly, the film in microcosm, is a moment where a character remarks upon a shooting star - it is transient, readily imbued with meaning it does not deserve, and we do not see it.

Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2012
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Sleepless Night packshot
A young couple decide whether or not to have a baby.

Director: Jang Kun-jae

Writer: Jang Kun-jae

Starring: Kim Soo-hyeon, Kim Ju-Ryoung

Year: 2012

Runtime: 65 minutes

Country: South Korea


EIFF 2012

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