The Night of Truth Review
A small-scale picture from Burkina Faso, The Night of Truth nonetheless harbours some grand themes and ideas. Setting itself within a fictitious Africa – one both tied to and removed from the continent’s real life events – this is a film which assumes the level of parable. Without these concrete realities to hang onto it has a much smoother playing field on which it can exist, one which can escape the muddied politics of a Rwanda, say, and instead focus on creating something altogether more Shakespearean. Ultimately we’re dealing with a grand tragedy here, the spectre of Titus Andronicus in particular being never far away.
In narrative terms The Night of Truth opens at the end of a ten years’ civil war. The Nayaks and the Bonandés have reached a truce in the form of a peace treaty and a feast is planned to bring these previously warring factions together. But of course, things are never so easy, with attitudes of fear, paranoia and downright intolerance still being rife. Director and co-writer Fanta Régina Nanto, here making her feature debut following a prolific career as a maker of acclaimed shorts since the early nineties, allows us a way into this situation by focussing on only a select few; all the better for us to detect the human elements. Indeed, by doing so she keeps their dramas effectively remote and ordinary, and thereby allows them to have that necessary bite of truth. Furthermore, her casting of unknowns and non-professionals aids her in such attempts; their rough edges become their characters’ rough edges and thus that added dimension of humanity begins to seep through.
Cinematically too Nanto demonstrates a keen directorial hand. She understands the power of the image and hits us repeatedly with some truly striking visions, most notably the post-massacre montage which silently unfolds in flashback. The use of colour is similarly strong and yet, despite all this, The Night of Truth could just as easily have existed on the stage. The reliance on characters, on the smaller moments and, unquestionably, the Shakespearean air each conspires to bring their own element of theatricality. The question as to whether the play out better onstage or onscreen, however, is a moot one and not easily answered. In each case you’d imagine the respective merits to be equally strong and little to be ultimately lost. The narrative and thematic handlings are certainly sharp enough, likewise the political resonances, and it’s here where the importance lies. You gather the impression that Nanto has made just the film she wished for, without compromise (save perhaps for budgetary considerations), the results being really quite powerful and certainly worthy of widespread attention.
Released by the BFI, The Night of Truth comes to the UK as an extras-light Region 2 package. The film itself gets a fine, if perhaps a little unspectacular, transfer. The original 1.85:1 aspect ratio is adhered to and presented anamorphically; the colours remain as vivid as you’d hope for; and the image overall is crisp and clear throughout. The only genuine problems are the appearances of moderate grain and moderate print damage which occasionally blight the screen. Neither is especially distracting, yet their presence on such a new film (The Night of Truth having been completed in 2004) is a little surprising. As for the soundtrack, here we find the original dialogue (a mixture of French, Dioula and Mooré) available in standard stereo form and with optional subtitles. And as you’d expect, the clarity is excellent and never once troubled by background noise or any other potential blights.
The extras, however, are somewhat lukewarm. The disc itself is empty save for the main feature, although we do get a fully illustrated eight-page booklet which contains various notes, reviews, interviews and a filmography for Nanto. Of course, the presence of this latter piece can’t help but remind us of the director’s shorts and the fact that a number of them would have been especially welcome on the disc. Sadly, this isn’t to be the case.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:49:53