Vassilis Kroustallis reviews the tense dramatic feature 'Through the Night' (Quitter la nuit) by the Canadian filmmaker Delphine Girard.
Canadian filmmaker Delphine Girard crafts an intrinsically balanced psychological and moral essay on the aftermath of a trauma, here a sexual assault. Her first feature 'Through the Night' (Quitter la nuit) is an expansion of her Oscar-nominated short 'A Sister', in which a woman in a car needs to make an emergency phone call to the police - while being in her car herself with her assaulter.
Aly (Selma Aloui), a divorced mom with a young daughter is the central character in a film that also takes care to include the other side of the phone call, the police telephone operator Anna (Veerle Baetens), and the repercussions of this phone call have in her own life. The third person, the assaulter Dary (Guillaume Duhesme), mostly an aggressive figure in the short film, now becomes the third pole of the equation -his defense murks the ground between the obvious and the fake.
Girard makes the conscious decision to move beyond and extend her short film; the first film act is the tense event (call operator scenes were here reshot), while the rest of the film reflects on the event and the decisions to prosecute/defend and face what happened. The whole film takes place in enclosed (but not claustrophobic) spaces, and what fuels this narrative is Aly's insecurity of being put in the 'victim' chair and being defined as such. Her character is torn between a strong need to find peace and a more lurking need for justice, which won't include the usual judicial procedure.
Aly's 'uncooperative' behavior with the authorities becomes the script's driving force and the central theme distinguishing it from an ardent empowerment manifesto. On the other side of the equation, adding Dary's mother (an always emotionally transparent Anne Dorval) adds extra weight to the premise. Dary's mother needs justification and she needs to care for a son who's as emotionally perplexed as the victim he has assaulted -but not potent enough.
Girard moves between the three characters (Aly, Anna, Dary) effortlessly, mostly in medium close-ups which are less invasive but still include aspects of the environment they manage to absorb. Anna's trajectory becomes quite thin in the film, and her mirror-reflection status is mostly assumed from the start rather than investigated. Aly's attempts at intimacy after the incident are well thought of in the plot, while the third act brings a sort of female victory (but again, in the private sphere - with a sing-and-dance number, reminding similar lost characters in Xavier Dolan's 'Mommy').
Apart from the first, highly-strung act, cinematography and music are never meddlesome, leaving space for the characters to decide rather than be defined. 'Through the Night' won't necessarily move into the territory of victim and perpetrator (even though the flashback scenes, unveiled throughout the second and third part of the film, leave no doubt as to what has happened). Sometimes, its need to move into as smooth a PTSD field as possible robs the film of some dramatic moments, making Anne Dorval's presence as the flabbergasted mom as precious as ever.
But 'Through the Night' overall handles a searing situation with much control and a lightness of touch at the same time. It leaves space for the viewers to reflect and will present its characters as beings that calculate and miscalculate endlessly rather than as rigid rocks of moral stances -and that leaves a lot of breathing air to the handling of the hideous event and its aftermath.
Through the Night (Quitter la nuit) by Delphine Girard had its world premiere at the 80th Venice Film Festival (Giornate degli Autori)