After the Night (Até ver a luz)

Après la nuit - Visuel 1.jpg
UK Release Date 25th April 2014
Director Basil da Cunha
Starring Pedro Ferreira
Runtime 95 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 16th April 2014

A Portuguese film, set in the Lisbon slums in Portuguese based Creole I here you say? Starring a rasta and an iguana? Yup, you’ve come to exactly the right place.

After the Night is Swiss / Portuguese Basil Da Cunha’s first feature film and is set almost exclusively at night in Lisbon. It tells the tale of Sombra (Pedro Ferreira) as he attempts to make ends meet and pay back a debt to the local gang boss Olos (Joao Veiga). Stalking the backstreets at night, Sombra confides in his pet dragon and chases down debts whilst wheeler dealing. As it becomes clear that he isn’t going to cover the debt, he is forced by the gang to take part in an armed robbery set up by a claw armed henchman, the only white member of the gang. When the job goes sour, Sombra retreats into the shadows as he tries to blunder his way out of the mess.

Filmed with only an outline script, the dialogue being improvised as he shot and shot on location with natural light (or mostly lack of) and a soundtrack of local music, the movie sweats authenticity from every grubby pore. Whether that’s entirely a good thing or not probably depends on your patience with its improvised nature. The trailer probably does the movie a disservice in that it seems to sell the more gangster side of the story and little of the rest. 

This is not a world of highly tooled up efficient criminals, the gangsters in Da Cunha’s world spend most of their days bantering, sitting around on broken plastic furniture and getting into petty fights with each other. Veiga’s Olos is lacking the charisma we are used to movies associating with gang bosses and his band of thieves are ill motivated and largely useless. When the take from a robbery goes missing during a rave, Olos takes a leisurely view on attempting to wheedle out the perpetrator, seemingly only too aware of the limitations of his crew. As a viewer this means that although we are sucked into the world, it’s a mostly talky one where motivations remain mysterious and outcomes doomed to failure.

As Sombra, Ferreira casts a lonely monosyllabic shadow. Spending his days crumpled up in his digs, admiring his dragon and apologising to the animal for not letting it see enough sunlight, he lopes around the backstreets shunning proper company or even electricity. A young girl in the neighbourhood and a philosophising friend inevitably sat on a wall are the only signs of any real friendship. Even his aunty poses a difficult relationship, constantly berating him for his behaviour and insisting that he visits the local witch doctor to lift the curse resting on him. Only at the end of his tether does Sombra submit to the witch doctor, an act that finally sees him spinning into some sort of decisive action, even if that is only the decision to give up and let the gang find him.

After the Night is a difficult film to assess. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the time spent in the ghetto with Sombra and his useless associates, on the other this is essentially a movie in which not very much happens, pretty slowly. The banter back and forth between the gang members is generally entertaining and it’s always enjoyable experiencing the minutiae of a culture you aren’t familiar with but Sombra is a difficult character to like. He gives nothing away and that leaves you wondering why you should pay any attention to his evolving predicament. Likewise, the local gangsters do so little, it’s difficult to form any opinions of them beyond a kind of vague collective interest.

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy After the Night, it has moments of beauty amongst the broken slums and at times you almost catch it being wistful (Sombra’s conversation with the young girl about the dragon living on the moon for example), it is just lacking a root for you to be able to hold on to. Character swirl around in the twilight, together making something interesting but individually not leaving much of a mark. 

Check out the trailer here.

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