‘After Midnight’: On a quest to quash characters
The Italian film “After Midnight” opens on a note of promising character development. A motorcyclist who goes by the name The Angel of Falchera rides to a stop at night on an illuminated street. He opens his leather jacket to reveal his shirt soaked in blood.
But Davide Ferrario, who wrote, directed and produced “After Midnight,” upends expectations almost as quickly as he creates them. The narrator, who will be an unseen, anonymous presence throughout the film, puts a halt to the predictable unfolding of the story.”Today, audiences only care about characters,” said the narrator (voiced by veteran screen actor Silvio Orlando). “But in the old magic lantern shows, there were no characters, only places. And this is what people got excited about. Perhaps places are the best way to tell stories.”With that, “After Midnight” turns its eye toward one of Italy’s more magical places: the Mole Antonelliana, the dramatically cavernous home to the Museum of Cinema in Turin, in northwest Italy. The Mole, a place devoted to the early days of cinema, when it was a wonder just to see moving images on a screen, is a splendid jumping-off place for the kind of film Ferrario has envisioned. “After Midnight” is, as suggested, far more about place than it is about plot. It is a visual exploration of the Mole and its surrounding neighborhood, especially after nightfall. Using dramatic lighting; old black-and-white film clips, especially of Buster Keaton; and almost every camera angle and technique that’s ever been invented, Ferrario and cinematographer Dante Cecchin take us back to a time when film was foremost a visual art form.This is effective to a point. One problem is that, while focusing on quirky tight shots of the Mole, Ferrario forgets to give us even one good, lingering long shot of the museum. We get almost every corner of the funky building that is at the center of the film. But we never quite get a sense of the whole of the place, which seems a massive oversight.
A bigger problem is that Ferrario backpedals on the decision to de-emphasize character and plot. In dribs and drabs, the first half of “After Midnight” squeezes in the barest sketch of a plot. The Mole’s night watchman, an introverted film lover named Martino (Giorgio Pasotti), barely has an existence outside the museum. Nor does he need one, given the extent of treasures contained in the Mole, and his fascination with his own, ancient crank video camera. Martino’s only regular excursions out of the museum are to silently commune with his grandfather, and to fetch his double-fry special from the nearby fast-food joint, manned each night by the dissatisfied Amanda (Francesca Inaudi).But one night Amanda hits the boiling point – she throws boiling grease on her boss – and takes refuge from the cops in the Mole. Shacking up with Martino, and on leave from her boyfriend, the motorcycle-riding Angel (Fabio Troiano), all of a sudden Ferrario has a plot on his hands. The second half of “After Midnight” takes a turn, becoming a fairly standard, if still stylish and visually stimulating, love triangle. There is a very nice plot twist that wraps together film, romance and the theme of quiet longing.Still, “After Midnight” amounts to a bit of this (an homage to early cinema) and a bit of that (the heart’s irrational yearnings), held together by a steadfast determination to be visually intriguing. The notion that the Mole Antonelliana is the center of the film – rather than merely the place where all the action happens – never fully takes, especially after the Martino-Amanda-Angelo triangle heats up. And when the romance angle takes off, we’re left asking why Ferrario crammed it all into the last part of the film.”After Midnight” does indeed drive home its own narrator’s point: Today, audiences care only about characters. Despite its efforts, the film never quite convinces us otherwise.
“After Midnight” shows Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 22-23, at the Wheeler Opera House.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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