REVIEW: Les rencontres d’après minuit [You and the Night] [2013]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: November 13th, 2013 (France)
Studio: Potemkine Films / Strand Releasing
Director(s): Yann Gonzalez
Writer(s): Yann Gonzalez

“Always follow the clues in dreams”

Everyone wants to describe Yann Gonzalez‘s films as kinky escapades of campy, colorful eroticism rather than mention what lies beneath that excitingly daring sheen: a profound sense of sadness. It’s a powerful longing for acceptance and love, a desire for more than our minds believe possible. The orgy constructed at the center of his feature length debut Les rencontres d’après minuit [You and the Night] isn’t therefore about sex or even pleasure. Instead it serves as a gateway to memory and a hopeful expression of love beyond carnal cravings. Before anyone removes his/her clothes there arrives a psychological merging of emotions reminding them of a pure love they’ve thought was lost forever. In each other they see themselves and pieces of their souls that have slipped away.

This could mean artistic vocation, maternal instinct, longing for community, or simply the drive to live. As The Slut (Julie Brémond) exclaims upon her arrival to this after-hours party—the atmosphere is wrong. She’s used to opening the door to find a line of naked men awaiting her mouth, not a nicely dressed duo like Ali (Kate Moran) and Matthias (Niels Schneider) alongside their maid Udo (Nicolas Maury). But that’s the earmark of a get-together concerned with surfaces. That type of party consists of physical pleasure and anonymity meant to satisfy yearning for a brief moment before the cravings arise once more. Ali, Matthias, and Udo are interested in a deeper catharsis. They seek to expunge sadness itself by providing a spiritual cleansing of mind and body.

Their reasons are of a fantastical nature dealing with immortality and satanic mysticism rooted in true love. These orgies exist for a specific reason because the couple’s happiness dissolves into a stale void of nothingness without them. But we learn their motivations later on, right after meeting the evening’s other participants and hearing the stories that brought them together. The Slut longs for the compassionate touch of her mother, filling that void with strangers to ignore the pain felt within. The Stud (Eric Cantona) seeks a respite from his penis, a force of nature that has diverted his passions from poetry to sex. The Teen (Alain-Fabien Delon) craves an acceptance his family never provided and The Star (Fabienne Babe) a connection she believes her age has rendered inaccessible.

Each of their stories asks us for sympathy, the sadness they feel unable to be shielded away by screams of ecstasy like they believed would happen. Understanding their pain is merely a matter of waiting to hear the music played on the sensory jukebox upon their touching it with their hands. The synth melodies composed by the director’s brother M83 deliver energy, but as anyone who listens to his music knows, that energy possesses a deep-rooted sense of melancholic lament. These aural representations spark memories in the guests’ minds to earn the audience a verbal tale of woe or a stunningly constructed visual one. They consist of prison S&M, incestuous lust, and the fear of impotence via fading beauty. Gonzalez embraces taboo like few others.

In doing so he also expunges them. I’m not saying he condones the actions onscreen, but he does portray them with a sense of grace. It’s less about what these characters have done or want to do and more about the why. In this world sexuality becomes synonymous with life. We all yearn to find someone to share our hearts with, a lover to understand and accept us for who we are. These eccentric creatures have that passion too and rather than pass judgment on what it is they seek, we simply hope they find it. Sex has no rules or constraints as Gonzalez presents it here. It’s merely a vehicle towards clarity. Each possesses something the other needs and a communal weight lifts as they become one.

But while The Slut, Stud, and Star can shake away the cobwebs and regain control of their lives through this newfound moment of lucidity, the others’ rebirth comes with loss. Because while Ali and Udo have held these soirées to rekindle their desire and go on living, Matthias has gone along only to see his beloved happy. Whether you believe the story of immortality against painted backdrops and stage dressing props or not, you have to see that Matthias is at the end of an arduous journey. His illness is life—it’s power to conjure pleasure as strong as it is to inflict pain. Ali alone keeps him tethered to this world and as soon as he believes she’s ready to be without him he will be gone.

So even when the music intensifies and the blue-tinged hue changes from a somber shroud of darkness to a glowing, pulsating energy of life, tragedy still lingers. Even when love is found and cemented the danger of past specters threatens to consume or be shattered. It’s through our dreams that we manifest visions of our identities and desires as well as fears and anxieties keeping them at bay. Those who attend this orgy enter a similar state—a venue wherein they feel safe and ready to find answers. The harder it gets the more important their actions become. Some rekindle lost love while others accept love’s inevitable demise. Midnight ultimately provides salvation. It may not manifest how they want it to, but it arrives exactly as it must.

courtesy of Strand Releasing

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