'Night Watch' (Ronda Nocturna) is a very strange film. It follows Victor, a street hustler in Buenos Aires, through a night while he aimlessly wanders the streets and has seemingly random encounters with various denizens of the night. He spends time with fellow hustlers, friends, the homeless, and clients, but nothing leads to anything nor do the various encounters relate to each other. Some encounters are short, such as people asking him what bus to take, and others are quite extended, such as the taxi ride and dinner Victor shares with an old friend, but none of these seem to relate to any central theme. This essentially leaves a movie with no plot and no conclusion. There are some surreal moments thrown in that are never explored further: We wonder whether these sequences are intended to show some kind of descent into paranoia or delusion by Victor, or if they are an attempt by the director to add some artsy aspects, because these plot elements do not develop nor are tied in to anything. What we end up with is a movie where we follow a character through what seems to be a random night in his life. Nothing revelational happens to him, nor does he appear to make any life changes as a result of his experiences that night. As daybreak occurs, we are still following Victor as he apparently begins a new day, yet there is no ending nor even anything that even makes us think the movie is coming to an end. The credits start rolling, and we are left scratching our heads wondering the whole point of it all.
Hustlers and street workers seem a popular subject for many foreign gay-themed films, but if you are expecting any titillation from the subject matter, you will be disappointed as there are few sex sequences, and the nudity is kept at a minimum. Mop-haired Gonzalo Heredia has a vulnerable yet intense look that fits his role as Victor, but the other characters who come and go are unmemorable and their performances are unexceptional.
This film is presented in a 1.78 anamorphic widescreen ratio. The entire film has a soft focus that gives it a dreamy, surreal feel. The director has purposely chosen a bland, earthy and gray color palette, giving the movie a feel of gritty urban desolation. Since most of the action occurs from sunset to sunrise in one night, many scenes occur in darkness, but the lighting is kept adequate that you can make out all the action. The same cannot be said for background details, such as street signs or text on products in a store. Whether the sequence is indoors or out, people and items in the background are blurry and lack detail. At moments, even close-up elements go out of focus. For example, in a scene shot over the shoulder of a character, the tattoos on the character's arm that are in the extreme foreground of the shot are completely blurry and unreadable.
The audio is available in Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1, as well as 2.0 stereo. The spoken language is Spanish, with optional English subtitles. We reviewed this DVD using the Dolby Digital 5.1 track and with subtitles on. The audio was fine, with voices clear and music and background sounds at appropriate levels. There did seem to be a sense that the frequency range was limited though, as there was no feel of an enveloping or "full" soundscape. Other than a few moments of automotive traffic which moved from left to right, we never noticed much panning of the audio. Although this is not the type of film that needs to really utilize strong audio effects, an audio mix that was less withdrawn would have given the film more vibrancy.
Included is the usual scene access feature, and trailers for this movie and other releases from the TLA studio. In addition, there is a 13-minute "Making of Night Watch" featurette presented in Dolby 2.0. We actually watched the trailer for this film before watching the feature, to give us a better idea of the plot. The trailer only left a question mark though, as there is little spoken and most of the trailer consisted of shots of Victor wandering the streets. There is no voiceover nor any teaser text explaining the plot. At first, we thought it was just a terrible trailer that did little to sell the film. Little did we know the trailer accurately represented the weird, no-plot nature of the feature!
The "Making of" featurette would have been better described as a "Behind-the-scenes" feature. The director, crew, and cast are shown filming various scenes, with occasional split-screen usage to show the filming on the left half of the screen and the finished sequence from the film on the right half. The filmmakers never address the viewer nor is there any commentary; what you are left with is just watching them at work on the set. The most striking thing about the featurette is we get to see how vibrant and colorful the actual sets were and how much more lush the original full sound field was compared to the final film. When the featurette flips between showing the filming of the scene and the same sequence in the finished film, we really see and hear a huge difference. This makes it apparent that the final look and feel of the video and audio was an intentional choice by the filmmakers.
It is always good to see new entries in the gay and lesbian film genre, but it would be difficult to compliment this brooding, plodding film with no plot. While the pacing is actually pretty good compared to many foreign films that tend to drag on in their sequences, it all leads nowhere. During the time you are watching the film, it all seems interesting as you wait to see how all these things relate to each together, but the film just comes to an unsatisfying, inconclusive end. There is some attempt at making significance of the night being November 1st, and perhaps the film's native audience would better appreciate why these surreal occurrences are happening on the night of All Souls' Eve, but that will likely be lost on most American audiences. Even viewed from that perspective, the film's stabs at several sequences involving death still don't tie together. Whether or why these sequences may have been real or hallucinatory is never explored. Even fans of artsy indie films will be left feeling empty at the lack of any development in the character through the course of the movie, and it fails even as an effective character study. We did find the imagery and setting of Buenos Aires streetlife interesting, but frankly, they could have been the gritty underbelly of any metropolitan city.