Thursday, October 4, 2012

Night Across the Street (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

I've mulled Raúl Ruiz's posthumously released Night Across the Street over in my brain since I saw it, and I'm not certain I'm any closer to fully understanding it than I was while seeing it. Certainly it has the air of mortality that was almost likely on Ruiz's mind in his final months—elderly Don Celso (Sergio Hernández) is knocking on death's door himself, almost literally. Dead, alive, and fictional characters mix and mingle while Celso patiently awaits his own death, an appointment-at-Samara style assassination he's foreseen. As his mind drifts to his past life, time and place become fluid and the boundaries between reality and fantasy melt, and Don Celso relives his steps on Earth through his own (in the title of another film by Ruiz) "Three Lives and Only One Death." A film whose modern-day protagonist is best friends with Beethoven and a pirate king? It might be futile to expect a linear plot narrative from such fancies, and Night Across the Street doesn't disappoint on that front.

But creating an empirical timeline to Don Celso's life or determining which characters exist and which are simply imagination is besides the point. Memory is reality, and history is insignificant: the old and the new co-exist and pass each other in the street. This is magical realism of the sort that flourishes in Chile, beating in time with its literary brothers Roberto Bolaño or Isabel Allende. The movie is in fact inspired by the writings of Hernán del Solar, leading Chilean writer but little known in the English-speaking world as his works haven't been translated and published in English. (Get on that right away, New Directions!) What it lacks in linear narrative it fills the senses with color, movement, illusion and the fantastic: the physical freezing of time into floating bubbles, other-earthly ships in bottles, bright warm color and surreal tricks with special effects backgrounds. This is a gorgeous movie, deserving to be seen in a theater. Don't wait for the DVD, and check your reality at the door. Night Across the Street is a determined chameleon of a film that will baffle at the same time it warms the heart.

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