Die Nacht der Nächte
directed by Yasemin Şamdereli and Nesrin Şamdereli
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 26-May 6, 2018 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers Basically the interstitial interviews from When Harry Met Sally... writ large and given an international twist, The Night of All Nights sees four elderly couples reminiscing on their marriage--though as the film opens Americans Bill Novak and Norman MacArthur, who've been together since 1962, are only finally getting to tie the knot. Germans Hildegard and Heinz-Siegfried Rotthäuser are probably the most sitcom-perfect subjects, as they gently squabble about the number of shoes she owns and other domestic issues. Japan's Shigeko and Isao Sugihara might argue more if Isao weren't so hard of hearing that Shigeko saves her breath now. By all appearances, Kamala and Nagarajayya Hampana, from India, are the most content--and horniest--couple; Kamala defied centuries of tradition by marrying below his caste and seems like he'd happily do it all over again. (There's a lovely moment where Nagarajayya starts to cry and Kamala swoops in with the fringes of his scarf to dry her tears.) Isao's near-muteness unfortunately makes the Sugiharas' story a fairly lopsided and vaguely unpleasant one, as Shigeko's disappointed memories of their arranged marriage--of all the men to choose from, she got the runt of the litter--become the dominant perspective on it. It's telling that the cloying claymation interludes, which caricature the couples and labour too obviously to give this geriatric picture some dynamic motion, change in tone for the Sugiharas, depicting them sitting down to eat at a table that keeps growing longer between them. (Isao passes away in a post-script and I really wanted co-directors Yasemin Şamdereli and Nesrin Şamdereli to go back and visit with his widow.) While I can't fault a prismatic look at the institution of marriage for not being all roses and sunshine, I confess that the larger point of The Night of All Nights, particularly its multicultural juxtapositions, evades me, and the film is sort of formally shapeless, getting all of its structural integrity from the build-up to Bill and Norman's nuptials. Long-time marrieds or starry-eyed newlyweds may have better luck with it than this inveterate bachelor, finding it relatable or perhaps even aspirational. That said, I was not unmoved.