Home Video Hovel: You and the Night, by Craig Schroeder
“Our appetite is a gift,” Udo, a transvestite maid, tells The Slut in Yann Gonzalez’s You and the Night. Udo is one of the architects of a late-night orgy that includes a number of people with dubious sexual histories who have turned their past misfortune (or transgressions) into integral pieces of their sexual appetite. You and the Night is a beautiful film about how people’s sexual desires and romantic relationships are formed and used both for beauty and despair. And, as Udo suggests, the sex and romance depicted in You and the Night is a not just a way for the characters to make well in their own lives, but is a gift to film audiences, who, far too often, are witnesses to cinematic love that fits into an increasingly narrow box.
To reduce a complicated film down to its premise, You and the Night is about an orgy. Udo (Nicolas Maury, who deserves as much praise as the film itself for bringing delicate sensitivity to a character who could have devolved into any number of misguided stereotypes) as well as the couple he services, Ali (Kate Moran) and Matthias (Niels Schneider), organize an orgy at a swanky mansion. The orgy includes The Slut (Julie Brémond), an embraced nom de plume based on her reputation, The Stud (Eric Cantona), so named for a reason that becomes apparent, The Teen (Alain-Fabien Delon), a young runaway boy, and The Star (Fabienne Babe), a once famous woman of a certain age. But Gonzalez, who also wrote the film, isn’t interested in how the septuplet has sex or interacts with each other; but instead, why a group of equally damaged people would have sex with each other. Each character has a checkered sexual and/or relationship history–some worthy of sympathy and others of scorn–that has brought them to Ali and Matthias’ mansion. The film is less interested in their sex life, and more concerned with how their sex life affects their being.
You and the Night is a beautiful film, both in storytelling and as a visual piece of art. Foreshadowed when The Star exclaims she will only join if the lights remain off, the last thirty minutes of the film take place under a dark, blue filter that cinematographer Simon Beaufils uses to perfection to stress the cloudy, magical-surrealism that shrouds the film’s narrative. Despite its serious subject matter, You and the Night isn’t without a sense of wonder. Udo–who only limelights as a maid because it fulfills a sexual and emotional need–is a gypsy with necromancer powers, who resurrected Matthias after “The War”. It’s a detail, integral to the plot, but not dwelled upon. Gonzalez and Beaufills make it clear we’re watching a surreal story in a world (complete with jukeboxes that read your palm to determine your mood and play music accordingly) very much like our own, but not ours at all. Somewhere in the intricacies of the Multiverse Theory, there is a universe nearly identical to ours but where Udo, Ali, Matthias, The Slut, The Star, The Stud and The Teen all call home. And it’s a universe fully realized by Gonzalez and Beaufils.
You and the Night is able to do something that most films can’t: balance the beauty of sex with the ugliness of those who attempt to abuse it, and then attempts to define the space in between the two extremes. And it does so by not allowing the ugliness to dominate the film; whereas any other filmmaker may be tempted to make The Stud’s sexual addiction or another character’s incestual desires the centerpiece of the film, Gonzalez does not. Those elements are there, but they’re not dwelled upon or used to manipulate the viewer’s emotions. By choosing not to dwell on past sexual encounters, the film is able to create characters with rich backgrounds, but whose needs are imminent and relevant to the story being told.
Yann Gonzalez doesn’t hide the influence of John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club on You and the Night; both built upon a nearly identical structure, in narrative form and character evolution. Each with characters identified via easily attributed (though not necessarily apt) stereotypes. And each with a wonderful soundtrack (You and the Night is scored by fellow countrymen, the brilliant and always reliable M83–of whom Gonzalez’s brother masterminds and Gonzalez himself used to play with). But Gonzalez uses The Breakfast Club in the same way he uses sex and romance: by establishing something relevant to a culture so as to systematically deconstruct the audience’s relationship to it.