Intents Lost in Ghostly Music, Imagery of 'You And The Night'

Directed by: Yann Gonzales; Runtime: 98 minutes
Grade: C-

Surreal cinema and sexual psychology have frequently gone hand and hand over the years, challenging the way people perceive other's desires and composure within an intentionally conceptual setting. From Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses to Pedro Almodovar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, filmmakers have lyrically explored those carnal themes while spurring the senses with inventive usage of photography or music, guiding their demeanor. Learning that synthpop band M83 provided their musical energy to a piece of explicit, abstract cinema about an anonymous orgy-party might bolster some expectations for You And The Night (Les Rencontres d'apres minuit), the feature-length debut from short-film director (and brother to the band's lead singer) Yann Gonzales. Alas, ethereal music and dazzlingly orchestrated cinematography are among the rare lucid and cohesive attributes of Gonzales' film, which ends up as a peculiar and superficial stream of vague monologues about life and sex from a huddle of inadequately fleshed-out oddballs.

Ali (Kate Moran) and Matthias (Niels Schneider), along with their gender-bending "maid", Udo (Nicolas Maury ), are hosting a midnight soiree. Not just any kind of soiree, though: anonymous individuals taking on descriptive titles -- The Slut (Fabienne Babe), The Stud (Eric Cantona), The Teen (Alain Fabien Delon), The Star (Fabienne Babe) -- are scheduled to arrive at their ultra-modern home for an evening of lascivious, fetish-friendly antics with few, if any, boundaries. The gathering seems to be a philosophical exercise for Ali and Matthias too, though, where anonymity allots each of them the freedom to vocalize who they are, what they're like, and what they want. Sometimes individually, sometimes in pairs, the guests gradually arrive and introduce themselves, until the seven of them start to interact with one another as a group. Instead of diving right into a night of sex an debauchery, the participants offer bits about their history, sometimes with erotic activity going on in the background and sometimes in stunned, emotional silence. The film's mystery becomes how, and if, these distinctive people will find chemistry with one another.

You And The Night focuses too directly on the drawn-out proclamations of who these people are, though, forming into spotlighted moments on themselves that are both momentous and void of much clarity. Instead of a pool of authentic characters and their developing attraction, these speeches clash into a series of abstractions and archetypes that neglect to associate with one another. Individualism, a sense of self-focus above a search for human interaction, speaks louder and louder with each person that trumpets their arrival to the orgy; granted, that might be a facet of their role-playing, but the points Yann Gonzales might make about personal boundary-breaking are muddled by egotism and elusiveness from the truth. Thus, the film keeps observations at a distance from appreciating each character's gradient of idiosyncrasies, with the exception of the man whose artistic side was overcome by his enthrallment with the size of his genitals, an intriguing quasi-Freudian exploration of manhood and creativity. Bizarre as it sounds, it's possibly the film's most cogent element.

What's frustrating about You And The Night lies in the purpose and design of the gathering itself, which would undeniably prefer to highlight a purpose beyond hedonistic satisfaction. Writer/director Gonzales is hell-bent on keeping most of Ali and Matthias' agendas a highbrow secret, offering little in the way of transparency about how any why these specific guests were selected, relying on auteurist interpretation in the vein of Luis Bunuel or Louis Malle to resolve those questions. It could be as simple as the desire for variety in partners, or as whimsically complex as selecting what's perceived to be a new eternal companion. Any figurative intentions are obscured by the film's deliberate ambiguity and encouraged dishonesty, though. Gonzales concocts these personas that invite deeper inspection and introspection, yet hinders one's ability to reach further into them by planting the seed of doubt that any of it is authentic, and it's quite frustrating.

Why? Because You And The Night displays this incredibly alluring imagery and sonic attitude that'll still make someone want to lose themselves in Gonzales' rich artistic tangle of flesh ... and really wish that the substance were better articulated. On the expectations created by their work on the Tom Cruise blockbuster Oblivion, M83's score is predictably breathtaking, strengthening the otherworldly nature of the numerous flashbacks and visions while forcefully elevating the party's intermittently pompous mood. Vivid surreal imagery traipses through motorcycle rides, psycho-sexual prisons, and graveyards, creating an uncanny dreamscape outside the walls of the brooding party through Simon Beaufils' cinematography. There's a flow to the provocative aesthetic beauty in You And The Night, yet it's squandered between and within haphazard surrealist kinks and a flimsy perspective on what the party's hosts wish to accomplish with their lusty guests, ending on a mismatched note in more ways than one.

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