Film Review: Night Across the Street (La Noche de Enfrente)

Eccentric and beguiling Chilean drama is strictly for Ruiz completists.

Less than a year after his death, the late Chilean auteur Raoul Ruiz remains as enigmatic as ever with Night Across the Street, a bizarre and baroque meditation on death, memory and the passage of time that ranks among the director’s more cryptic works (of which there are several in his whopping 100+ feature filmography), though it does offer up a few pleasurable moments.

In typical Ruiz fashion, this posthumous release is neither the least nor the last of his oeuvre: Another feature (finished by the filmmaker’s widow) is also due in the future.

Inspired by the writings of fellow Chilean Hernán del Solar, the Santiago-shot drama spans several decades (roughly throughout the mid-to-late 20th century, though that’s never exactly clear) and jumps back and forth in time with little concern for the traditional laws of storytelling. Indeed, as the film’s aging hero, Don Celso (Sergio Hernández) remarks, time is like a “game of marbles,” and the sentiment very much summarizes Ruiz’s freewheeling approach to narrative, which is on ample display in the scenario’s multiple crisscrossing plotlines, flashbacks, dreams and fantasies.

As we follow Don Celso just before he retires from some sort of bureaucratic post while fretting over his own possible assassination, the story shifts to his childhood in the late 1940s, where he spends his days chatting with two real (or imaginary) friends: one of them Beethoven, the other a sea pirate à la Long John Silver. Back in the present, Don Celso takes French classes with Jean Giono (Ruiz regular Christian Vadim), and the two discuss the Spanish-language translations of the renowned novelist, who never actually lived in Chile (although Ruiz is a major admirer of his work, having adapted Les ames fortes to the screen in 2001).

While it will be difficult for many viewers to make heads or tails of much of the action, what’s evident as Don Celso approaches retirement day is that Night Across the Street is much less a period drama with surrealistic flourishes (e.g., Mysteries of Lisbon or Marcel Proust’s Time Regained) than it is a freeform rumination on death and old age. This makes the film’s totally bugged-out closing reels—where Don Celso confronts the truth about his supposed demise—occasionally intriguing and sometimes quite moving, as does the knowledge that Ruiz died only four months after shooting was completed.

Tech credits on this Franco-Chilean co-production are substandard compared to the director’s European work, and the video-ish quality of the photography (by Inti Briones of Bonsai) doesn’t do justice to certain moments that are vintage Ruiz: These include a murder-mystery sequence where the characters are dead (or not) before the crime even happens, and a final real (or near) death experience where an ordinary city sewer becomes the passage from this life to the next.
The Hollywood Reporter