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Night God
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by Jay Seaver

"Yet another satirical, bureaucratic dark future."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As fusions of post-apocalyptic devastation and bureaucratic intransigence go, "Night God" is certainly arresting to look at and utterly committed to a level few films manage. It's also a reminder that, for however much truth there may be in this sort of vision of the future, it can be monotonous and ineffective once a viewer realizes that the cynicism is relatively unshakable. At a certain point, you don't add much by saying everything is a mess in the way that it has always been a mess and always will be, and how many ways can you say that?.

Sometime in the future, a man (Bajmurat Zhumanov) returns to his home village after the fall of civilization, wife and daughter Aliya (Aliya Yerzhanova) in tow, only to be treated as an outsider, held at gunpoint, and forced to produce proof that he belongs there. After all, one would not want to be caught outside, when otherworldly entities take control of the area.

Kazakh filmmaker Adilkhan Yerzhanov creates an art-house apocalypse, one which offers up a world without sunlight but has familiar sorts of authoritarian types in charge of the town our narrator returns to, still asking for forms and proof of identity even if they must be hand-written. An absurd situation develops involving live explosives and a TV game show, but it just redirects things back to the bureaucracy, and the stonewalling before anybody attempts to solve it is perfunctory, at least for an outsider; perhaps there are elements of satire that play out more entertainingly in his native land. It's perhaps fitting that this sort of entrenched administration doesn't really change, but it comes across as a sort of default position, and it as such doesn't demand a particular character to complement it or get ground down. Star Bajmurat Zhumanov turns in a performance that's just a little less generic than the scenario, half befuddled everyman and half not used to putting up with this, and does well by it.

The film has its greatest spark of life when the daughter who had been silent through much of the film finally has words for her father about how he and his generation's obedience and timidity wrecked the world, but the filmmakers don't really seem to have any desire to run with that in any interesting direction - indeed, they see nothing but Icarus in that sort of attitude. It's kind of a bummer, not just for the fatalism, but because Aliya Zainalova has been doing good work in the corners throughout the movie and her complete frustration with the idiocy of all this is easily the film's most relatable moment

It's a striking vision of this at least. It's the sort of world that exists easily on a soundstage, and the details of it can be hypnotic, from the snow that sparkles as it falls through a hole in seemingly every roof to the daughter's yellow jacket, which seems to change shade as more or less light is cast in a scene. It's very deliberately paced, with the getting from one thing to another often a bit of a dark slog, but the islands of insanity and style are perhaps all the sharper for that.

The film is fully committed to its pessimistic metaphors, probably to a fault, but it's impossible to miss the thought and craft used to place them on-screen. For all that there is undoubtedly truth in what Yerzhanov is upt to, the film could really use a few more moments when the characters do something concrete, even if it's futile, rather than just talk about how thinking is resistance. It's a fair poke at present circumstances, but not one that leads anywhere.

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originally posted: 05/21/20 13:58:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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