Review: O Beautiful Night
by Teresa Vena
- BERLIN 2019: Young Berlin-based German filmmaker Xaver Böhm has created a deeply romantic journey through the night, which resembles a flamboyant baroque painting
Premiered in the Panorama section of the 69th Berlinale, O Beautiful Night [+see also:
interview: Xaver Böhm
film profile], the first feature by Xaver Böhm, is a striking and self-contained psychological drama. The film draws its inspiration directly from the history of art, referencing it through its use of light and colours, and making it bear a strong resemblance to paintings from the 17th century. Baroque still lifes, with their vibrant floral settings, are woven into the story and help to structure the movie into several chapters. The director seems keen to let the pictures sink in so that they can have the full desired effect. Their symbolic meaning is evident and very appealing: life is there to be sucked up to the very last drop, since we know it is all temporary.
O Beautiful Night opens with a beautiful but gory scene in which a raven is pecking at a young man’s heart. The latter is still alive and observes it, fascinated, but he is also full of expectation as to what may happen next. Juri (Noah Saavedra) has a feeling of foreboding about his imminent death. A pain in his chest makes him feel dizzy and anxious, even though any natural cause for it has been ruled out by doctors. But the real target of his resentment lies beyond all rational thinking. The film drags the audience along with Juri on an emotional, surreal rollercoaster deep into the abyss of the night and its bizarre inhabitants.
In front of a slot machine in a gambling house, Juri meets a self-confident man dressed in black, who introduces himself as Mister Death (Marko Mandić) and tells him he has come to pick him up. Incredulous and taken by surprise, Juri finally reluctantly follows the stranger after he promises him a few final, unforgettable hours. Along the way, they make the acquaintance of a Korean witch doctor who specialises in drugs, and a mysterious peep-show performer (Vanessa Loibl), who then tags along with the duo. She also seems to be something of a lost soul, finding solace in drugs and roaming the very boundary between life and death.
Using a suggestive soundtrack that fits in perfectly with the sombre images, occasionally illuminated by reflections in the windows and the rain, O Beautiful Night constitutes a melancholic and breathtaking work of art. It could even be described as a symbolic punk opera with an extraordinary visual concept. The protagonists perform a sort of dance of survival, pushing the boundaries of human existence and trying to overcome death itself – and alcohol and drugs can apparently be very helpful in this quest.
Despite its overly simplistic interpretation of what makes life valuable – including various kinds of excesses – the script is convincing mainly thanks to its accurate and intelligent dialogue. The performances by the two male characters, in particular, are excellent. Böhm imagines Death as a cynical, middle-aged man with a charismatic Eastern European accent. Of course, Death is able to speak and understand all of the languages on Earth; he has everything mapped out and still shows sympathy for humans. It turns out to be difficult not to like this guy.
With O Beautiful Night, Böhm has created a romantic fable in which love is all-conquering. He deals with reincarnation, the endlessness of the soul, Byronism and what is referred to as Weltschmerz. The result is an intense film enveloped in a courageous, fresh form.
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