Back in 2011 I was advised to see a Portuguese film entitled ‘Mysteries of Lisbon’. It wound up being some of the most rewarding hours of my life as I completely soaked in the elegant master storytelling of the late Raoul Ruiz. It was my first experience with the man’s work, and it was astonishing to witness. Since then, I’ve been anxious to see more of his work, and I felt that there was no better place to start than with ‘Night Across the Street’; his final work.
Many have likened this to a weak variation of Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’, a film that I personally didn’t connect to as strongly as so many others have, but I was still very curious to see what this film had to say. Settling in earlier this week to watch this, I was on pins and needles in anticipation, mostly because I was afraid it would let me down.
In a way, it did.
This isn’t to say that what Raoul Ruiz does here isn’t noteworthy, but there is an obvious lacking in the finished product that is sadly very present in the finale. As it was coming to a close I found myself acknowledging the film’s fault to my own dismay. It just doesn’t connect. That isn’t to say that the film is particularly cold, or even distant, but the film doesn’t find solid footing in the delicate detailing and winds up feeling disjointed in composition despite containing an obvious flow of imagery. The concept of following a man’s mental journey on the brink of retirement is an intriguing one, and I’m always up for a good ‘reflective’ piece that allows the audience to follow the protagonist as he examines his life and where it has led him. The main issue is that as the film comes to a close, I’m not sure that this journey was all that meaningful. Despite pondering seeming insightful ‘life lessons’ and ruminating over words, Don Celso’s life journey doesn’t feel all that special or memorable.
The interwoven realities here are actually interesting in their own right. The flashbacks to his youth and his obvious literary and historical obsessions are intriguing and surprisingly layered, and yet visually appalling (for such a beautifully shot film, those horribly ugly flashback sequences with obvious green screen glow and pee yellow sky are a real detriment) and disjointed from the rest of the film. The fictional ‘murder plot’ aspect of the film feels fresh and is my favorite aspect of the film (and that ‘one take’ tracking shot in the retirement home is breathtaking to watch) and yet it all felt contrived as a whole.
I think that is a huge problem with a film like ‘Night Across the Street’. There are many admirable aspects to each layer of this film (the reality, the fantasy, the flashbacks) and yet they don’t come together in a way that feels unified or cohesive or even poignant.
It’s a shame that Ruiz left us on this note, and yet maybe it is fitting (considering that the film’s exploration of death seems a fitting ‘final piece’). I just wish that the exploration of life and death and the working man’s journey had made a stronger impact in the end. That final scene should have felt richer, and yet it came and went without much more than a shrug from me.
As far as Oscar is concerned, this isn’t getting close to anything (and rightfully so). The cinematography, outside of those hideous flashbacks, is beautiful (and so layered) but really there is so much more from this year to see and chose from that this doesn’t deserve the recognition. I give this a C-. I wanted more, but I won’t write it off completely because, in parts, it works fine.