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After The Night – Review
April 24, 2014
Basil da Cunha’s first feature film, After the Night, often proves something of a contradiction. In many ways it is a beautifully subtle film, whilst at other times coming across as somewhat forced.
Da Cunha steers away from the traditional screenplay, instead preferring to work around central ideas and lines in each scene. In doing away with set dialogue he allows his actors to follow their own instinct to a large extent and this can lead to some captivating scenes, with very realistic conversation and group dynamics. Perhaps inevitably though the formula does sometimes slip. We are all aware of certain tropes when it comes to each genre of film, including the actors of After the Night. As such, in having to constantly rely on their own initiative, they fall into occasional clichés. Especially towards the start of the film lines such as “take care of business” and “where’s the stuff” slip through.
This issue is something that flows throughout the film, with it starting as a rather weak and typical ‘gangster’ story. It follows a fairly predictable formula of drug theft, debts to mobsters and so forth. Fortunately though, as time progresses, this problem becomes less and less apparent.
Ultimately, this is not a film that revolves around its story. It centres on the theme of light versus darkness, both literal and metaphorical. It is in this theme that the true intrigue of After the Night shines through. Sombra, the film’s protagonist, is a man who encloses himself in darkness. He comes out only at night and even then remains isolated and lurks in the shadows. It is almost as if he doesn’t exist, with the film’s livelier and happier scenes almost universally taking place during the day. By sticking to the darkness it is as if Sombra is not amongst the living at all.
In exploring this theme, and the character of Sombra, Da Cunha looks at some of the most fundamental human fears, those of death, darkness and insignificance. These are shown most strongly in the film’s visuals. The vast majority of After the Night is, unsurprisingly, set after dark. In this setting Sombra often carries only a single lamp with him, which becomes almost an extension of his own existence. The more separated he becomes from the lamp, the less of his humanity he seems to retain.
A further constant symbol of light versus darkness is Sombra’s closest companion, his pet iguana. One again, as with the lamp, this serves to focus as an extension of Sombra himself. It is a creature of the sun confined to darkness, and both ultimately find their freedom only once the night passes.
In the exploration of this theme of light versus darkness, a lot of artistry and talent is evident in Da Cunha as an emerging filmmaker. However, the exceptional use of the visual is often diminished by what it is attempting to symbolize being spelled out in dialogue. The viewer cannot help being somewhat let down in this respect. We are, for long periods, left to assume our own meaning from what we see on the screen but are then told what we should be inferring in a brief piece of speech. This is a repeating issue which becomes rather irritating since it feels as if we are having our own thoughts stolen from us.
Ultimately this is a promising first feature film from Da Cunha. The visual style is mesmerizing, and the realism often striking. His use of light and symbolism in particular are brilliant. However, the avoidance of following a set script, whilst an intriguing idea, often lets the film down. It leads to a lack of being able to truly balance the visual and the oral and they sometimes work against each other. Da Cunha is a filmmaker to watch in the future and with a larger crew, and especially a more experienced script-writing team involved, he could create some very interesting films in times to come.
After The Night is out in cinemas and on VoD on April 25 and you can also find it on iTunes here