Donnerstag, 5. Februar 2015

Berlinale: Nobody Wants the Night

There are definitely things to like about Spanish director Isabel Coixet's polar circle-set drama "Nobody Wants the Night", which opens the 65th Berlinale today. Telling the story of Josephine Peary- wife of famed expeditionist Robert- who sets off for the North Pole in search of her husband at the dawn of the last century, it begins on a strong note by introducing a wonderfully unconventional, impenetrable heroine. Educated, opinionated and fiercely determined, this is not someone to be talked off an idea by her male compatriots. She delights in the fruits of her own hunts and holds an almost Darwinian outlook on life, believing in the superiority of grand, adventurous human endeavors. It's rare to find such a self-assured female protagonist in a period piece and her combination of intellect, ambition, elegance and an elusive need to find her spouse makes for an intriguing character study.

Portrayed by Juliette Binoche, whose face remains one of the most exquisite, volatile, captivating objects to consider, every minute shift in temperament of Josephine bubbles clearly to the surface. She brings a modern woman from an old world to life and you could just revel in the mystique of that performance. Elsewhere the art department and the cinematography are also unexpectedly potent for a filmmaker not necessarily known for visual pizzazz. The textured set decoration and costume design are shot in honey-colored sunbeam and fifty shades of white, projecting all levels of warmth while looking awfully pretty.

But then the movie hits its half-way mark. Josephine reaches the last known post of her still missing husband and meets an Inuit girl Alaka. The remaining hour will be about the evolving relationship between these two and it gets more and more boring by the second. The previously complex-appearing Josephine is soon reduced to the role of the passively waiting wife. And in part due to the less-than-subtle performance by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, Alaka never comes off as this pure, enlightened being but more of a caricature of uncivilization. The scenes of cultural clashes and gradual mutual appreciation between them are written with a whiff of (unintentional) condescension and quite uncomfortable to sit through.    

In short, this is a film with an exceptionally female-centric narrative set in the refreshing, breathtaking icescape of the Arctic that sees its life drawn out by an inexplicably overblown second half. It'll take something else to kick this year's Berlinale properly into high gear.    

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