To The Night

*1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

To The Night
"Brunner clearly loves Norman - art for art's sake! - but fails to communicate how others have come to tolerate him." | Photo: Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

"I'm destroying everything I love," says Norman (Caleb Landry Jones) near the start of Austrian filmmaker Peter Brunner's English language debut. The director too is on a destructive path, aiming to experimentally take us into the head-space of his traumatised central character. Norman, we learn in sharp fragments, has never recovered from his involvement in a house fire as a child. Although now an artist and a father, he is prone to frightening mood swings that can even turn violent towards his inexplicably compliant partner Penelope (Eleonore Hendricks).

The male gaze of the film, although inevitable as we are kept in the jittery and nervy world of Norman for most of the time, begins to beggar belief. Surely only a male director would expect us to believe not only that Penelope - painted as a sensible individual and good mum - would stay with this fruit loop as long as she does, but that he also somehow has the charisma to attract additional women into his orbit. Brunner clearly loves Norman - art for art's sake! - but fails to communicate how others have come to tolerate him. There are striking visuals, such as a body on fire, but again Brunner is too in love with them for his own good, repeating them, adding cliched choir like neon signage which reads, "Feel the weight of this!" Innovative ideas slide into indulgence.

Copy picture

Because the artist's character is allowed to dominate so much, the atmosphere feels forced rather than organic and Norman's repeated returns to his family home - a shell of a mansion - lack coherence; initially he seems unable to even step over the threshold without a meltdown, yet later seems happy to be in there alone.

It's been quite a year immersive anguish, from Joaquin Phoenix's suicidal hitman in Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here to the elided PTSD moments experienced in fellow Karlovy Vary film 53 Wars.

But where both of those films strip back to the psychological bare bones, Brunner adds elements that bring confusion rather than complexity and the lack of believable character building of anyone other than Norman makes for dull viewing despite all the drugs and rage. This is not to make light of the work done by Jones. Never less than intense even in the smallest roles, he gives hook, line and psychological sinker. But his blazing performance is not enough to ignite the film.

"Let's get out of here," someone says. Good plan.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2018
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As a child Norman survived a fire that took the rest of his family. As an adult he is still struggling with the resulting trauma, and he finds it difficult to start a new life with his girlfriend and little boy.

Festivals:

Karlovy 2018

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If you like this, try:

You Were Never Really Here