Around fifteen minutes into Yann Gonzalez’s You and the Night (2013), ex-footballer Eric Cantona is giving a lengthy monologue about the enormity of his penis. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Manchester anymore. A surrealist odyssey into an orgy on the other side of midnight, what sounds none-more-French on paper reveals itself to be an x-rated take on The Breakfast Club (1985). With its disparate band of loners and searchers, roughly defined by type, the picture has the bones of a teen movie, but the flesh of Stendhal. It may not always coalesce, but Gonzalez shows great promise. The film centres on a high-class orgy but, despite some terrifically silly raunch, it’s more interested in why the participants are there.
Inverting the narcotic logic, it’s where you’ve been not where you’re at. The backstories unfold like expressionist visions, defying reason and time. We feel as if a contemporary form of ancient myth-making is unravelling before us; like Arabian Nights or The Decameron filtered through the hedonist wonderland of early Almodóvar. Indeed, with the combination of smut and soul, the great Spanish maestro is a key touchpoint for Gonzalez. In films like Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980), the absence of political purpose among the disillusioned youth of urban Spain was fashioned into its own form of political statement. Sex is a sanctuary for the denizens of You and the Night; a balm against the tyranny of society. We don’t see Paris, just the deliberately artificial sets and the dream journeys that take place; interiors within interiors.
It’s a retreat into the self; skirting the fringes of hedonism to find direction in a directionless world. While the age of the characters varies significantly, Gonzalez’s debut feels like a picture about millennial angst, much like the films of Xavier Dolan, with which it shares a fetishistic, stylistic pose (as well as lead actor Niels Schneider). These are glacial surfaces, and unfathomed depths. A glorious synth score is provided by Gonzalez’s brother Anthony, aka M83. With its appropriation of eighties youth culture as a lens through which to view the present, the film shares much of the thematic and stylistic concerns of M83’s 2008 album Saturdays = Youth. Gonzalez’s weakness is one of pace and tone. There are sensational moments in You and the Night – from the Schnitzler-like plunges into the erotic abyss and the elegant aesthetic – but he can’t quite manage to bring it together. The encouraging thing is that it’s an easy fix. He may well go on to give us something quite breathtaking. In the meantime, we are – in the words of his brother – “waiting for a ride in the dark”.