Words

Sophie Monks Kaufman

@sopharsogood

Nocturnal – first look review

Cosmo Jarvis shines in this portrait of flawed, inarticulate masculinity by first-time feature director Nathalie Biancheri.

Pete (Cosmo Jarvis) is a 33-year-old painter-decorator who lives in a sparse apartment in the seaside town where he was born. He is fucking a woman who is increasingly dissatisfied with the arrangement and is now flirting with a teenager at a local school, where he has a painting job. It is here he first sees and becomes transfixed by Laurie (Lauren Coe), 16, who has just moved from Dublin with her mother Jean (Sadie Frost) back to the latter’s hometown.

The film’s greatest asset is the hulking force of traditional masculinity that is Cosmo Jarvis (of Lady Macbeth fame) who is in almost every scene, usually shot in extreme close-up and by a handheld camera that pursues him as he lumbers around like a beast of burden. This is a man who struggles to say what’s on his mind, having to summon a huge force of will to even grunt in the right direction of his intended comments.

His primary function to women is his ability to physically service them with his big, muscular body. This is a type of male character often deployed by cinema as a threatening figure, and this default read on his presence spikes the poignant scenes that emerge as we come closer to understanding what governs him in relation to Laurie.

Due to Pete’s noticeable physicality, his habit of skulking around Laurie is none too subtle. After she clocks him, the two strike up a friendship forged in excessive alcohol consumption. She, hungry for experience, attempts to seduce him, while he holds back. What is the motive of this sexually virile man, if not the obvious?

This is Nathalie Biancheri’s first feature and she overestimates the intrigue of the ambiguous central dynamic. The script, co-written by Biancheri and Olivia Waring, strains to drum up an atmosphere out of holding back Pete’s motives and some sequences often feel underpowered, like we are treading water while waiting for the next tidbit of information.

With the help of cinematographer Michal Dymak, Biancheri pads out the run-time through pretty cutaways to city lights twinkling through rain-streaked windows, and wind turbines rotating in the grey skies beside the beach. These thickly laid-on aesthetic flourishes create discord with the consensus opinions expressed by characters that the setting is a nowheresville that everyone wants to leave. While it’s possible to read the decision to fill Nocturnal with picturesque shots as an attempt to place it within a heightened, or fairy-tale world, this is not supported by the focus on realism in all other respects.

At its best, this is a portrait of flawed, inarticulate masculinity and the confounding assumptions that men and women project into each other. Cosmo Jarvis proves himself able to carry a film on his considerable shoulders: a leading man who harks back to the beautiful, sensitive, Brando-esque brutes of the 1950s.

Published 10 Oct 2019

Tags: 100 Great Films by Female Directors British cinema Cosmo Jarvis

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