You and the Night (Les rencontres d'après minuit) (2013)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

By night, everything becomes obscured, abstracted, reduced to invisible concepts. It’s a time for intimate liaisons, supernatural hauntings, criminal activities, midnight movies and deep, dark dreams. It’s also the setting for Yann Gonzalez’s strikingly stylised debut You and the Night, which combines all of these elements in a genre-savvy romantic reverie, beginning expressly with a dream. For in the nightmarish prologue, Ali (Kate Moran) is separated from her late lover Matthias (Niels Schneider) by a mysterious helmeted man who sweeps her off on his motorbike into the ecstatic dark – and, as Ali later points out, we should “always follow the clues in dreams.”

In fact, Matthias really is receding into the shadows – a melancholic, flop-haired paramour with only one working eye on his face, and one foot in the grave, held back from leaving forever only by Ali’s clinging love. In an isolated chateau-cum-factory (complete with swanky minimalist interiors) they maintain a ménage à trois with their transvestite maid Udo (Nicolas Maury), and are awaiting four strangers for a midnight orgy. All these creatures of the night will tell a story of their past, inflected with the associative grammar of dreams and cinema, until eventually their narratives, like their bodies, merge into one collective experience of tristesse and transcendence.

Gonzalez marries the blue-and-pink 80s aesthetic of the cinéma du look to a Euro-trashy gothic mode, all mediated through a focus on love and death. Matthias and Ali are like centuries-old decadent vampires, only they feed off their own and others’ libido rather than blood. The Stud (Éric Cantona) is like a werewolf, only his conflict is between the poetry of his soul and the carnality of his prodigious cock. The Slut (Julie Brémond) is haunted by the ghost of her mother’s memory, as well as by her own mortality and solitude. The Star (Fabienne Babe) lives in the shadows, repressing incestuous desires (and at one point wearing the iconic sparkling dress from 1971 undead artpiece Daughters of Darkness). And the furtive, fugitive Teen (Alain Delon Jr.) is the vehicle of everyone’s desire, ultimately leading Ali down a road of possible escape – or further imprisonment.

This is, from beginning to end, a tale of eros (and thanatos), but that does not prevent the trashy intrusion of an Ilsa-like sadistic prison warden (whip-wielding Béatrice Dalle!), a mirror-faced spectre and even scenes of Satanic necromancy. For Yann repurposes the language of genres past to create a mosaic of memory and metaphor. And despite the orgiastic themes, polysexual alliances, and teasing preoccupation with Cantona’s member, You and the Night is as concerned with intellectual intercourse as with the other kind. This is group therapy no less than group sex, as these seven lost souls learn to face the dawn. Meanwhile, the electronic score by M83 (fronted by Gonzalez’s brother Anthony) anchors the many moods to an eternal 80s, and manages, like the film itself, to be cheesy and emotionally intense all at the same time. This is a nostalgia-tinged oddity alright – but certainly worth pursuing by cinephiles of a more errant inclination.

Anton Bitel