After the Night

At first glance what would appear to be a story framed within the teeming favelas of Rio de Janeiro, is actually a gangland yarn set in the similarly rundown (if previously unexplored cinematically) Creola slums of Lisbon, Portugal. With After the Night, young Swiss-born filmmaker Basil da Cunha has sculpted a dark, moody and satisfyingly grim tale of an outsider who seems to exist in the shadows of the night.

Sombra (Pedro Ferreira) is a dishevelled and mysterious figure who lives a solitary life with ‘Dragon’, his pet iguana. He is forever crawling around the rooftops next to the threadbare room he calls home, and his only friend appears to be a young girl who lives with her family next door, and whom Sombra is fiercely protective of. He is also in some kind of mysterious debt to the local drug dealer and crime boss, who he has been an associate of in the past. Given a day to repay what he owes, the marked man begins to track down money from his debtors and siphons funds from the secret stash his loving but weary aunt keeps in her apartment. With the clock ticking and the sun slowly rising, will he manage to make the payment?

Populated with a cast where the majority of which have undoubtedly been plucked from the very streets the film is set within, After The Night is imbued with both a gritty authenticity and a strange, otherworldly aura. Sombra lives a seemingly nocturnal, vampire-like existence, and his aunt even makes him attend a homemade-type exorcism to cast out the evil spirits she thinks lives within him. This is all told in a documentary style, but rather than clashing with the more obvious thriller and pseudo-supernatural aspects of the film, it adds an intriguing, and at times, unnerving dimension.

The film also benefits greatly from its weary and genuinely unstable-looking lead, Ferreira. He is truly mesmerising in the roles, and it’s difficult to tear your eyes away from his gaunt figure. Elsewhere, you can see a little bit of da Cunha’s influences coming through. There’s a touch of both Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine and The Wire as the various criminals lament their environment and make social observations around the street corners and ramshackle roof terraces they frequent.

Unfortunately, as the film zeroes in on the lead character’s increasingly fragmented behaviour, its mix of genres becomes a little jarring and After the Night tends to lapse into occasional incoherency (particularly with the elusive ending, which frustrates rather than enlightens). However, it’s hard not to get swept up in the ominous atmosphere the director creates, through both limited resources and his cast of non-professionals. While the film definitely bears the mark of a filmmaker still finding his narrative footing, it’s an interesting debut which manages to mainly rise above its shortcomings.