Night Without Distance ★★★★½


My capsule review from my TIFF Wavelengths coverage for MUBI:

Lois Patiño, who is probably best known for his feature-length landscape film Coast of Death, has reached a new level of artistic achievement with his new film Night Without Distance (Noite Sem Distância), the single best short film in Wavelengths and one of the best films of the year. A quasi-narrative piece about smugglers working along the Galacia / Portugal border, Patiño stages sequences very much in the Lisandro Alonso / Pedro Costa vein. Night abjures naturalism in favor or quiet declamatory speech, performers dispersed through the landscape as compositional elements.

That's to say, the film gives equal if not greater weight to the space that contains events as the events themselves. And the manner in which Night Without Distance accomplishes this is nothing short of mesmerizing. It's simple enough in the telling. Patiño has used color-reversal film and presents the film in negative, generating an eerie, otherworldly visual timbre to the landscape. (Although the color-reversal sets the basis for Patiño's compositions, he has clearly created various deliberate light and color effects in post-production.)* In the dark, boulders have an internal glow, foliage is an inexplicable neon purple, and the tactile painterly abstraction of the natural border renders everything, even the location of bodies in the landscape, highly mysterious.

Every shot demands that our eyes readjust to the very act of seeing. After a moment, we discover oh! There is a person against that rock, there is a stream flowing through this bit of land. Patiño has practically redefined figure / ground relationships, and to say that the experience is exhilarating, "an adventure of perception" as Brakhage once said, seems trite but somehow accurate. Yes, Patiño's method has its diegetic purpose—smuggling and night vision are not unrelated—but if we need to draw some metaphor, thoughts of the border seem more apposite. Night Without Distance is much more about the collapse of divisions, the "smuggling" of narrative and abstraction into one another's sovereign zones, and the shrinking of the distance between pure perception and conceptual categories.

This will be the film against which everything else in the festival will be judged.

*One note: Vadim Rizov wrote a short article, in consultation with filmmaker / critic Blake Williams, in which they explain how Patiño shot Night in overexposure, to produce deeper colors when shown in negative. Great sleuthing, guys.