Monday, June 9, 2008

Critical Reactions: Night Sun


"Il Sole Anche di Notte (Night Sun) is a beautiful recreation of Leo Tolstoy's novel Father Sergius. The film is directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and follows a typical for the brothers manner--the pacing is rather slow necessitating utter concentration by the viewer. However, as much as Il Sole Anche di Notte is a story of a man with a broken heart looking for solitude it is also a beautiful tale about fate and man's power to endure life...I think that Il Sole Anche di Notte will be difficult for many to embrace. This is a slow film that really takes its time to develop into an engaging story. The beautiful cinematography however makes it a worthwhile experience that is rewarding to say the least. The masterful camera of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani has captured the struggle of a man trying to rediscover his passion for life unlike many we have seen on the big screen. I suppose however that this would be what many would perceive as a disadvantage as the film really requires certain familiarity with Leo Tolstoy's work to fully appreciate it..."
-Sven Atanasov, DVDTalk-

"Tolstoy's Father Sergius, transferred to Italy, stars Sands as the nobleman who abandons an arranged marriage at the last minute when it transpires that his bride-to-be has betrayed him. He spends the ensuing years wandering the country as a revered religious hermit, trying not to give in to the sexual temptations that come his way. The setting is lovely, but there's very little let-up in the depressing action (this is, after all, a Tolstoy adaptation). The scene where Sands chops off a finger in order to prevent himself bedding a notorious clergy-shagger is sickening."
-Channel 4-

"This is the film Martin Scorsese might have made with his equally intense The Last Temptation of Christ, but then he wasn't born in the land of Leonardo and Fra Angelico."
—Peter Aspden, Sight and Sound-

"In their adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's short novel "Father Sergius," Italy's revered directorial team the Taviani Brothers use an expansive canvas to frame the intimate story of one man's spiritual journal. The robust score playing over the opening credits seems to be heralding an epic costume drama; the first shots set in expansive royal palaces appear to be setting the scene for an extravagant period piece. But in the end, Night Sun ends up being neither of these things...For all of its sumptuous costumes and settings worthy of immortalization by the Renaissance Masters, Night Sun remains first and foremost a depiction of an intense spiritual journey, and one man's quest to achieve some kind of worthiness from sources outside of himself. The film begins as the story of a young man who seeks to solidify his identity through his service to his king, and ends up the story of a man who finally discovers his identity by finding a way to serve the deity he comes to believe is the King of Heaven...Unfortunately, Sands isn't always up to carrying the weight of this epic struggle, even when it is projected on such an intimate level. His performance is muted and appropriately sensitive, but at times the film, as delicate as it is, seems to overwhelm him. The females in the film, played by Kinski, Patricia Millardet and the young Charlotte Gainsbourg (My Wife Is An Actress), on the other hand, not only look stunning and sensual in period costume, but are brimming with life and the possibility of sex. It is disappointing then that they seem to serve the same function as the luscious cinematography: to evoke a world and a lifestyle now long past... it is a lovely, haunting little film in its own right, which is something that ultimately can't be ignored."
-Jesse Ataide, DVD Verdict-

"In their characteristically sensitive, imaginative adaptation of Tolstoy's Father Sergius, the Tavianis again address philosophical and political questions (the value and perils of retreat, the place of pride in idealism) in a simple, lucid style that lends the story the magical power of myth. Though Giuseppe Lanci's camerawork is consistently elegant, the way the Tavianis pare down composition, dialogue, narrative and performance to essentials ensures a clarity of purpose and effect rarely encountered in contemporary cinema."
-Time Out-

"The rapturous visual style of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani is brought to bear, in the brothers' new ''Night Sun,'' upon an extremely unlikely subject. It is ''Father Sergius,'' Tolstoy's posthumously published story of a handsome, tormented aristocrat driven to seek spiritual fulfillment through perfect self-denial...the sheer voluptuousness of ''Night Sun,'' a film as gorgeous as a work of coffee-table art, is the embodiment of everything Tolstoy's self-punishing hero is determined to reject...the early part of ''Night Sun'' is as lavishly ornate as it is exquisite. There is a good deal of meaningless extravagance...''Night Sun'' moves slowly and ponderously through the stages of this tale. It seems most turgid and tongue-tied in trying to explicate Tolstoy's final vision of Father Sergius as a man who finds salvation only through his own failure. The film visually undermines such thoughts of humility, just as it verbally fails to articulate them. The characters explain themselves so flatly and deliberately that they seem less simple than slow-witted...
In the central role, Mr. Sands sometimes conveys appropriate anguish -not hard in playing a character who attacks his spiritual failings with an ax - but mostly just projects a dull nobility. Few of the other actors are given even this much opportunity to shine, since they are more often used as mannequins or figures in a landscape than as fully imagined characters."
-Janet Maslin, The New York Times-

5 comments:

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I actually believe I've seen this film even though I don't remember much about it. I'm pretty sure I have. I went through a Julian Sands obsession for awhile. So I was seeing all he did, both good and bad.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith...I like Julian a lot but thought he was a bit mis-cast in this one...

GAMERA_2004 said...

Though not the Taviani's brothers finest work, I still have a lot of admiration and respect for this film.
It has an emotional intensity to it, as well as moments of startling beauty, and an ending that have always found quite moving.
Several scenes have remained with me over the years. The scene where Kinski practices singing and the scene where Sands as a boy touches the tree marry sound and image to great effect. And perhaps, most of all, the scene towards the end where Sand's character is found by the mother and children sobbing at the elderly couple's grave and the mother firmly raises her hand to silence her children, in respect of Sand's grief.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Gamera,
I'm not sure why the film doesn't work better for me. After reading some of the positive reviews and your comments I really think I am missing the boat on this one. Part of it maybe has to do with the rather poor quality of my copy and the fact that Sands just doesn't work for me here.
I am going to hold off on a review for now until I can view the DVD (which I think is out of print now) as I want to give this film a fair shake...thanks again for your comments and support here.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Gamera,
I'm not sure why the film doesn't work better for me. After reading some of the positive reviews and your comments I really think I am missing the boat on this one. Part of it maybe has to do with the rather poor quality of my copy and the fact that Sands just doesn't work for me here.
I am going to hold off on a review for now until I can view the DVD (which I think is out of print now) as I want to give this film a fair shake...thanks again for your comments and support here.