Slow, difficult, surreal fantasy steeped in allegory of colonial guilt
On a surface level, Black Night is about a lugubrious entomologist who works in a natural museum history in an unspecified place where it's always night and comes back to his apartment one day to find a black girl sleeping on his bed. Director Olivier Smolders seems to be trying to say something about colonial guilt, which is only fair enough considering the fact he was born in the Belgian Congo in what is now the capital Kinshasha of the DRC, but whatever it is he's trying to say holds little interest to me. Or more precisely, because black Africa and the juxtaposition of European manias against it fascinate me, Heart of Darkness is one of my favourite novels and it takes place in the Belgian Congo after all, how Smolders says what he has to say.
As the intertitle at the beginning says, Black Night wants to be about something that can be very well recognized if not fully understood. This is not a movie where you make sense in literal ways but rather called to live through an experience or a certain feeling. The problem for me is that it's not very well recognized at all, even those bits from which I can decipher that Smolders is haunted by an image of black Africa that is only familiar to those who have truly experienced it, so I can't even acquiesce to the idea that this is an experience worth living through. The bigger picture is held from me so that whatever it is this movie is a dream of, or a hallucination or something fantasized, it's not part of something "I" would dream. As personal as it is to Smolders, it's impersonal to me. And then those parts I can at least partially recognize are steeped in allegory, the kind of which entire theories are made to explain when David Lynch does it, where things translate into other things in a direct "this means that" manner. I like things to linger in the mind and be poetic but something tells me Black Night can be deciphered to the fully explainable if someone has a mind to it.
Those parts of Black Night I did somehow enjoy are connected to the fact that it all takes place in a claustrophobic Kafkaesque universe where the protagonist seems a helpless cog in the grinding wheels of an unseen world, where guilt and paranoia figure in at some point, and disconcerting voices can be heard coming from other rooms or behind closed doors. The "retro otherworldly" decor reminded me of Dark City. It's all a bit like opening a door to an attic that has been sealed for years, the colors in the velvety furniture are faded and there's dust everywhere, and you can smell the musty smell of decay and formalheyde in the air. Once you clear the cobwebs and adjust your eyes to the dim light, something nightmarish can be discerned lurking in the corner, but it doesn't chime in with how I see nightmares so it's all a bit irrelevant to me.
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