Tapage Nocturne (or Night After Night, as it's titled on this DVD) is the second film by Catherine Breillat, who would go onto make several sexually provocative films, including Romance and Fat Girl, recently re-released on Criterion Blu-Ray. As far as subject matter goes, Tapage Nocturne is no different, exploring the sexual encounters of a promiscuous female film director, but it has the hallmarks of an "early" work, the worst being an overall lack of momentum thanks to a rough, disjointed narrative...a problem that may be exacerbated by a poor French-to-English subtitle translation.
Solange (Dominique Laffin) spends the days editing her latest film, and her nights moving from bed to bed. She has so many routine encounters, she's even devised a schedule of when and where to meet each one, including her sort-of former husband Bruel (Daniel Langlet), who takes everything in stride. Solange seems to think actual romance is both too complicated and overrated, preferring to enjoy herself rather than get weighed down by any one person. Then she meets Bruno (Bertrand Bonvoisin), a mysterious man who refuses to play by her rules. Solange is inescapably attracted to him, a revelation that brings her sexual system crashing down.
Tapage Nocturne is executed in a mostly minimalist style, with lots of scenes of characters standing around and having conversations in real time, without the aid of music or much cutting. Some viewers will find this to be boring, and Breillat's execution is sometimes rough around the edges, but viewers with patience will find humor and insight in Solange's mix of discontent, sarcasm, and neuroticism. It helps that Laffin is excellent, giving a nuanced yet natural performance that exhibits her charming, likable qualities even when the character is frustrated or angry. Bonvoisin usually reacts to her with bemusement, which he naturally exudes, but from time to time, the character gets angry or upset at one of Solange's little tics, and his rough, emotional side is not as well-written as Solange's eccentricities (whether that's a fault of the performance or of Breillat's writing is hard to tell).
Although it seems like Solange's schedule of encounters would provide the film with an adequate backbone, Breillat's naturalistic approach allows scenes to go on longer than necessary, destroying any sense of rhythm or drive as Solange drifts around, contemplating her situation. Despite a run time of only 91 minutes, the film feels closer to two hours, simply because the film contains scene after scene without obvious build or payoff. There's also the sense that one could cut up each of Solange and Bruno's encounters and rearrange them in the film without having any real effect on the story. A smaller issue is that the film's off-hand style of dialogue makes it hard to determine some of the relationships between Solange and others in the first 20 minutes, although it's very possible that this is an issue with the subtitles on the disc itself rather than something inherent to the film.
The film's ending makes sense thematically and might even work on paper, but it plays as somewhat abrupt and unsatisfying. Tapage Nocturne has interesting characters and ideas, an excellent lead performance, and some of it is very compelling on an emotionally insightful level, but on the whole, it represents a filmmaker who hasn't yet smoothed out all the kinks in their filmmaking style. The results may be interesting for Breillat fans, but they're probably a bit dry and unpolished for everyone else.
Night After Night (also known as Nocturnal Uproar) is saddled with a pair of photo choices that make it look like a Japanese geisha drama at a glance (thanks to Laffin's silky red dress and pale white skin). The colors clash, there's an excess of text, and the back cover, by contrast, is quite boring (with an overly large, slightly unsightly QR code hovering in the bottom corner like UPC). No insert is included.
The Video and Audio
I doubt anyone other than Criterion would go back to the negative for a little-known Catherine Breillat film, but that's what Tapage Nocturne cries out for. Pathfinder's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is extremely murky and heavy with grain, but the obvious issue is the black levels. At one point, Solange and Bruno step off the night street and into the darkened foyer of a town house. The shot holds until someone switches on the light inside the house, illuminating their silhouettes in the window, but for a full three or four seconds, the screen is completely black, without the slightest hint of detail or nuance, despite the fact that we should be seeing the front door, the steps, the sidewalk, etc. It might not be that much of a problem, except more than half the film takes place in dark rooms or at night. Fine detail is entirely absent. The picture never quite renders anything confusing or unwatchable, but it's on par with the public domain presentations on one of those "50 Movie" sets.
Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is a little better, but not much. I didn't detect any real use of the surrounds, just fuzzy dialogue and music coming straight down the center. Since most of the film is in French, the fact that the audio is a bit muffled isn't a big deal to myself as an English-speaking person, but the few lines that are in English are hard to hear and sometimes impossible to understand. Again, though, the subtitles themselves are also suspect, as many of the conversations in the film lack a natural flow, and there are one or two obvious grammatical errors. Even if it doesn't affect every conversation in the film, I feel pretty confident that a relevant level of nuance has been lost in translation.
Trailers for other Pathfinder releases are encoded on the disc...although the first one I clicked on was in French with no English subtitles.
Again, I imagine Breillat fans will want to see Tapage Nocturne, and I'm all for them doing so, but given the weak A/V, questionable translation, lack of extras, and the flawed nature of the film itself, this disc is a rental at best.
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