As an English kid born and raised in the raucous glare of soccer, Eric Cantona was a titan. Enigmatic, balletic, and absolutely insane, the gruff Frenchman was a delight to watch on the pitch and frequently bewildering off of it. He seemed capable of doing or saying just about anything. That said, I don’t think I ever expected to see him whip out his penis to a room full of enrapt onlookers. I’m not sure whether I should thank or chide You and the Night for subjecting me to such an unexpected reveal, but it stands as the oddball centerpiece of an equally oddball film. From its misfiring openings through to a climax that touches the face of brilliance, Yann Gonzalez’s ambitious feature length debut makes for a bumpy ride, but one worth straddling.
Set over the course of one night, the film tracks the pasts and presents of an upscale orgy’s various attendees. There’s The Stud (Cantona), The Teen (Neils Schneider) and a handful more, each with their own story to tell and their own grievances to voice. The orgy itself is swiftly defined by blue balls, with sadness trumping pleasure and dream sequences far more central to the plot than any orgasm. Prancing between drama, comedy and that confusing, Lynchian twilight world of unsettling weirdness, Gonzalez takes his cast of misfits on flights of increasing fantasy, leading to a conclusion that makes up in surprising poignance what it lacks in logic.
Gonzalez has been blessed with an excellent cast of up-and-comers, with each of his thesps taking to an occasionally clunky script with intense fervor. Particular credit should be given to Nicolas Maury, whose cross-dressing turn is punctuated by eerily precise replications of the female form in motion and pitch perfect comic timing. It’s this assembly of intense, often mournful performances that fight through the awkward jitters of You and the Night’s opening act and ease you into the greater film beyond it – one brimming with sensuality and sorrow in equal measure, bursting at the seams with dreamy visions of the past and present, bathing its audience in a bizarrely sterilized Bacchanalia of the heart and soul.
And that’s where You and the Night most succeeds. For a film centered around – and largely focusing on – a misfit orgy, its sexuality is primarily there to disguise the beating humanity hiding just beneath the surface. As the film gears into its final crescendos (often literal ones thanks to a thumping and woozy soundtrack by Space electro titans M83) you’re pervaded with a genuine but oddly joyous sense of emotional exhaustion. You, as an audience member, have been hurled through time and space, light and dark and life and death across the course of just under 100 minutes, and it’s a statement to You and the Night‘s unfaltering desire to capture that fever-dream like tone that – even after the credits have rolled – it takes you a good while to snap back into reality.
The script may clunk at times, and not all of You and the Night‘s ideas may come to fruition, but its often overwhelming sense of melancholy – coupled with a snowballing plot that ends up elevating the film far beyond its stuttered origins – pull it into the realm of something rather fantastic. It’s a brave move by Gonzalez for his first feature-length picture, but he takes to the task with a ballsy and emotionalist abandon, layering sadness and sensuality in a color-strewn world of weird discoveries and intense, lustful darkness.