With Sophie Goyette’s Mes nuits feront écho winning the Impact Cinema Bright Future Award at IFFR 2017, slow cinema triumphs. The dreamy triptych connects characters of different ages at decisive moments in their lives, traveling between countries to prove that our fears and worries are similar. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” accompanies the film, dominating the sense of fatalism and serenity. In one way or another, the three main characters are marked by loss — missing their loved ones, dealing with death and coming to grips with romantic and personal failures.
Portrayed with a sense of humour, Éliane (Éliane Préfontaine) is a young Canadian who plays a part-time princess at children’s parties, lusting for a musical career. Her failure is justified by an extremely personal experience, bolstered by the fact that her passion wasn’t shared by her late, pragmatic parents. As the only survivor of a car crash that took her parents’ lives, Éliane is burdened to remember her passion with a bitter yet accustoming attitude. However, this tragic event represents an impulse to follow her path, as she takes matters into her own hands by moving to Mexico.
Éliane gives piano lessons to a child from a wealthy Mexican family. The camera highlights her warm nature and nice looks, while the plot naturally shifts to the student’s father, Romes (another character dealing with past regrets). The two bond, as Romes grieves his mother’s death and shares details about his life with Éliane. In the film, every character has unfulfilled dreams — even Éliane’s employer from the opening sequence confesses that she wanted to become a biologist.
We can’t always get what we want, but Mes nuits feront écho shows that, in our dreams, we are in charge. Romes realises he should get closer to his dad, who was neglected for a warmer and gentler parent. In an attempt to mend the relationship, Romes takes his father to Beijing, a country that Pablo always wanted to visit. And so, the soft transitions seem to connect different chapters from the same person’s story, with the characters’ ages and origins now blurred.
Although more meditative than narrative, Goyette’s film concentrates on the idea that dreams could hold the key to the characters’ unhappiness. Mes nuits feront écho is composed of static long takes, often accompanied by the calmness of nature. The characters are filmed from behind, as the director gradually reveals more details through close-ups. This evolution shows the protagonists’ warming up to each other, overcoming their fragility in order to reclaim their destinies. The constant reference to dreams feels natural, as Goyette blurs the line between reality and the subconscious, flowing one into another by maintaining the same colour palette throughout. Even if the characters are quite different, they are linked through their interior world. In each segment, the director avoids abrupt transitions as the story moves to different countries. Goyette takes a minimalistic approach with pale, desaturated tones, even when abundant nature images could distract from the characters. As a result, everything is serene. When Romes and Pablo visit China, even the city noises are muted. There are many silent moments in Mes nuits feront écho, complementing the classical music’s sublimity. Incidentally, the characters seem to live in limbo, an insufferable state of frailty. And so, the anticipation of a narrative ending becomes cleverly transmitted through introspective conversations and melancholic pauses. The sounds of nature (dried leaves crumbling in Éliane’s hands and splashing waves) contribute to the organic feeling of regret.
To a point, these segments could very well be the echoes of the same person’s dream. The helplessness, the despair, the dissatisfaction of not being in control — these are all feelings that irradiate in everybody’s dreams. Through visual metaphors, Goyette incapsulates the search for a path in the way that Romes sees life. By driving his car in a fog, he must have faith, even if he can’t see what’s ahead. And so, the intermingle between alternative reality and facts dissolves naturally in Mes nuits feront écho, as Romes’ dream about a last conversation with his mother seems like a regular talk on the phone, even if the viewer knows she is dead.
Perhaps symptomatic for this fatalism are beliefs in ancient rituals and customs, influenced by the phases of the moon or the domestic interpretation of dreams. In this intuitive work, there is a constant feeling of sorrow, amplified by Goyette’s austere directing style. Even if the protagonists run away from their worries, the heartache follows them, because it’s an inner pain. Sometimes, the remorse is not even associated with the departed, but with the yearning to know that better choices have been made.
Mes nuits feront écho is not just a formal, ascetic work about the intangible quest for happiness, as it also examines life choices that people make, whether they’re deliberate or not. Goyette’s feature debut bears the roots of sophistication like other transcendental auteurs, such as Béla Tarr, although she doesn’t hold on to the same radicalism. The conclusion even seems to quote a masterpiece of slow, spiritual cinema — Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror – which features an iconic scene in a field of buck wheat. However, Goyette’s influences are moderately controlled, as she produces a radiant piece of cinema about finding one’s own path. Mes nuits feront écho is not about defeat, nor is it about settlement. To me, the reason for bringing together such different characters lies in one of the most beautiful definitions of love I’ve ever heard, voiced by Pablo: “Two blinds in the dark, walking hand in hand, won’t go far, they’ll just go on in the dark together less painfully. Like an instinct to unite with the other to numb the pain of living.”
Andreea Pătru (@andreeapatru89) is a Romanian film critic and programmer who resides in Spain. Apart from taking part in the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy and Talents Sarajevo in 2016, she has written for Indiewire, Desistfilm and collaborated with Romanian outlets such as Film Reporter, Observator Cultural and FILM magazine. Andreea is a programmer at Tenerife Shorts – Tenerife International Short Film Festival and has previously worked for Romanian Film Promotion.