Dark, endless and powerful. The sea can be ruthless sometimes, as filmmaker Ivan Salatić suggests in his feature debut, You Have the Night. The film, which premiered in 2018 at the Film Critic’s Week in Venice and was recently screened at the Bright Future section of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, shows how the expanse of water than once made the Montenegrin city of Bijela rise now has been witness of its decay. The slowly degrading blue economy of the place’s shipyard is fading away, along with the lives of people who devoted their life to it.
Before Sanja (Ivana Vuković) arrives back home, she stares blankly at sleeping train passengers while drifting across Italy with just a bag. During her first stop before reaching Bijela, she already looks out of place, lost in a sea of cars; lost in a language she does not know. All of these actions, paced out slowly, appear to reflect Sanja’s reluctance to return.
When she does arrive in Bijela, an impatient boy awaits, as well as an estranged couple. They are also dealing with a city that has pressed the “pause” button. The youngsters look bored, throwing everything they can at walls or even animals, but it’s the adults who seem to have it the worst. “We built giants”, says one of the eldest characters while talking about past work down at the shipyard. “We never thought we would outlive them.”
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With You have The Night, Salatić takes a contemplative approach with his story, as most of the narrative focuses on mundane actions as characters explore abandoned houses or scrap for old boat parts. Aside from constructing a plot, these scenes play more as visual metaphors than exposition. Salatić and cinematographer Ivan Marković stage the shots with big open spaces, and the characters lay at the bottom of the architecture, as if the they literally have the world on their shoulders.
This reflective approach, however, can be a detriment for the viewer, as one may feel You Have the Night is better at meandering than actually diving into the more personal problems that seem to be troubling Sanja and her family.
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Salatić does manage to make a sense of impending doom appealing by exploring how the failure to let go out the past can be as dangerous as an unexpected storm. Time passes by and yet still stays the same (shown through a devastating use of archival footage). There’s barely a glimmer of hope. Still, there are some bright spots.
Waves are dark in Salatić’s sea, and the sound of a constant, unavoidable motor seems to be heard within every character. It’s an inescapable noise that one has to get used to. Sometimes, there is no other option but to prevail. Even when you are fighting the current.
Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi (@pstaricco) is a France-based Uruguayan journalist, film critic and member of FIPRESCI. He worked as a staff member for the newspapers El País and El Observador, and he is currently part of the the movie podcast Santas Listas (from @polentapodcast) and the comics publisher Pantano Editorial.
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