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Oo-er, Cantona: You And The Night Reviewed
Nadia Attia , October 4th, 2014 08:18

Nadia Attia gets up close and personal with director Yann Gonzalez's retro-powered romp

A girl rides pillion on a motorbike steered by a mysterious man in a black helmet as wind wafts her long hair and tears fill her big eyes. This is how You And The Night begins; an atmospheric neo-80s scene with hints of Drive. A promising start, you might think. The girl is Ali (Kate Moran, a muse of director Yann Gonzalez and star of many of his short films), and she’s crying for her partner Matthias (the angelic-looking Niels Schneider), who’s left in the dust as she speeds off with another man. It’s just one of the many dream sequences within the film that add some substance to the characters who assemble for an urban orgy and end up in an unplanned therapy session. Surprisingly, especially for a French film, the nudity here is kept to a minimum, although You And The Night does follow the trend of presenting actors of a certain age as sexual beings. Thankfully, this time it’s not Gerard Depardieu.

Ali and Matthias are a seemingly wealthy couple with an amazingly hi-tech apartment – think Ikea fused with Tron – and a transvestite maid (Nicholas Maury) complete with French maid frills a-la Rocky Horror. We soon find out that this strange ménage-a-trois have a history that spans generations and transcends death. In order to spice up their long-term romance, Ali and Matthias invite a group of strangers over for some no-strings fun; The Slut (Julie Brémond), The Star (Fabienne Babe), The Stud (Eric Cantona) and The Teen (newcomer Alain Fabien). And that’s when Yann Gonzalez’s debut feature becomes truly bonkers and turns into a nightmarish – or hilarious, depending on how you look at it – version of Come Dine With Me, with "speed, poppers, cocaine or MDMA" on the menu.

The Slut arrives first, and comes across as a pseudo Laura Palmer – in fact all of the characters are portrayed in a Lynchian vein, but ultimately Gonzalez doesn’t have the writing or directing chops of Lynch so, sadly, they all feel like pale imitations. Next to arrive are The Stud and The Teen, and Cantona’s character launches straight into a monologue extolling the virtues of his amazing penis. Turns out he’s a poet-turned-porn star who misses the ‘art’ of his pre-pubescent youth, and wants people to like him for more than just his bulge. At one point, after the bizarre arrival of The Star, who insists that no-one look at her, the guests all take turns in holding his member like a ‘talking stick’ as they ponder their own childhood. In another dream sequence/flashback Béatrice Dalle (Betty Blue herself) makes a cameo as a dominatrix in a Russian trapper hat and yells "stab me with your pork sword!" This hasn’t quite got the sensuality of her previous performances, but a least she gets one of the best lines in the film.

It’s Gonzalez’s script, however, that really smothers any hope of the film reaching the arthouse heights he was surely aiming for. Instead, You And The Night’s wonky dialogue irritates more than it amuses; "all is trouble and strife, but you must face it with your free will and your courage," beseeches The Star when faced with a couple of shady police inspectors in a seemingly pointless scene. Even the surreal flashback sequences come across as fluff rather than meaningful beats in the story, and what could have been deliciously dark Freudian moments turn into eye candy.

This (very loose) story is sprayed with neon-drenched, 80s stylings and M83’s excellent electro soundtrack which, on reflection, might well be enough to satisfy the midnight movies crowd, and perhaps you do need to be intoxicated or sleep deprived to really get into it. From what can be deciphered, though, it’s a film about belonging – of lovers belonging to one another, but also of belonging to a ‘family’ – which echoes John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, but lacks the same heart.

At You And The Night’s Cannes debut last year, what started as a full screening was 95% empty halfway through. It’s a film that confuses the audience and falls in the gap between arthouse and trashy farce (at one point The Slut ejaculates violently over the maid, which is neither shocking or funny, just plain weird). It exposes Gonzalez’s inexperience, but it does hint at a playfulness and artistic sensibility that could, with the right focus, see him become a worthy disciple of Kenneth Anger or Derek Jarman. The lighting, framing and stylised studio sets showcase the skills of cinematographer Simon Beaufils, and really lend themselves to the score by Anthony Gonzalez (M83, the director’s little brother). The result is more like a 98-minute music video. So, to end on a positive, it might be a very flawed film, but You And The Night is a ‘money shot’ for one of the great new talents working in music today – the possible heir to the Vangelis crown.

You And The Night is in cinemas now