Nocturna Side A & B
Argentinian filmmaker Gonzalo Calzada has been thinking pretty hard about time, sin and redemption. This week he invites you to two sides of the same story. Side A — The Great Old Man’s Night shadows ninetysomething Ulises (a heartbreaking Pepe Soriano) on his last night on this earth.
Like a surreal take on Michael Haneke’s Amour, the film puts you in the shoes (likely slippers) of a man who’s never sure what’s real and not real, someone struggling to do what’s right and yet terrified that everything he’s doing is wrong.
Soriano’s befuddled, valiant performance never feels less than authentic. As grief and regret call up memories that blur with a reality that’s already smeary from dementia, Soriano keeps you as off-balance as his character. The performance aches with tenderness for this man, and it’s that tenderness that gives Calzada’s film its haunting poignancy.
Set inside a once-elegant, now crumbling Buenos Aires apartment, The Great Old Man’s Night becomes a kind of haunted house tale, the building itself an image of the ravages of time. But where the set feels of decay, Soriano finds the bridge between age-related confusion and the wistful wonder of childhood.
Calzada returns to the same Buenos Aires apartment building for Side B – Where Elephants Go to Die. Essentially the same film told from a different perspective, Side B is no Rashomon trick.
For this track, the filmmaker sees regret, loneliness and time as a loop. And once this loop is recorded, it becomes a trap. For that reason, Side B becomes an outright ghost story and horror film.
Calzada’s themes are the same, as are his characters and setting. The approach is different, though. More experimental in nature, at barely an hour, Side B is also more tedious.
Rather than any kind of traditional narrative, the film strings together hauntingly poetic images narrated with voiceover soliloquies. This may have worked far better in Calzado’s native tongue, but the length of these monologues makes reading English subtitles difficult. Reading and also paying attention to the images dancing across the screen is frequently impossible.
Stylized treatment and herky-jerky editing do give the film an unnerving time loop quality, but scenes mainly feel stale. The imagery lacks a traditional storyline, which means that sequences need to hint at a story that wants to be unearthed. On the whole, these vignettes feel like stories you’ve already heard, usually more than once.
Side B is best digested as a tandem piece to Side A, an appendix of sorts. But the real treat is watching a film that values an old man, sees his humanity and contribution through his last breaths. For that reason among others, Side A is the novel and impressive work.
Nocturna Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night
Nocturna Side B – Where Elephants Go to Die