Dir: Werner Schroeter. France/Germany/Portugal. 2008. 121 mins.
Pascal Greggory - and the audience - stumble through a violent, decadent war-torn Eurocity in veteran German filmmaker Werner Schroeter's Tonight, trying to salvage some sort of meaning from the mess. Though it flares up occasionally with noirish atmosphere and post-apocalpytic ennui, Schroeter's first film for six years shows how dated the director's early-seventies brand of cinematic expressionism has become: with half-baked characters who wax existential at the drop of a hat and little dramatic cohesion, this Venice competition entry plays like an avant-garde fusion of Cabaret and Casablanca.
After its Venice and Toronto berths, the film will likely open to ultra-arthouse crowds in the three co-production territories of France, Germany and Portugal, but further theatrical action looks dubious. Schroeter's last outing, Deux, was only released in France and Portugal - despite the bait of Isabelle Huppert in the main role.
Greggory plays 40-year-old Ossorio, already more of a wandering urban philosopher when we meet him than the doctor-turned-resistance-fighter he is supposed to be. Arriving in the war- and cholera-ravaged city of Santa Maria late at night, Ossorio tries to track down Clara, the love of his life, in order to flee with her on the only ship that's leaving port. But Clara has disappeared; so Ossorio drifts through the night city in search of her.
He stops at a bar called the First and Last, which is full of Rocky Horror lookalikes, and has run-ins with sadistic secret police chief Morasan (Todeschini), corrupt army commander Martins (Stevenin) and a besiged rebel leader, Barcala (Frey).
Civil war is chaotic, of course, but there's little sense that even the script knows these characters' places in the overall conflict. It's never explained, either, why Ossorio, who is clearly suspected by all sides, is immune to the casual violence and executions that are erupting all around. The able cast makes the best of the material, and there are moments when scenes are lifted by the bravura of the actors - as in the encounter between Ossorio and the world-weary Barcala, who is holed up in the attic of a booby-trapped, explosive-lined house in the old quarter.
But even Greggory loses his Bogartian poise in a scene where he's required to don a wolf mask and have sex with Elsa Zylberstein in a bathtub. There are consolations: Thomas Plenert's atmospheric nocturnal photography cherishes Porto - the main location - and soaring choral passages from Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Rossini's Stabat Mater help to paper over the story's essential incoherence.
Alfama Films Production
Alfama Films Production
+ 33 1 42 01 07 05
based on the novel Para esta noche by Juan Carlos Onetti