After Midnight (Dopo Mezzanotte) Review
It doesn’t take too long to recognise that After Midnight (Dopo Mezzanotte) is not your typical modern Italian melodrama and - without wishing to be overly condemnatory of a whole national filmmaking industry which probably has no more than the average share of generic, predictable, formulaic fare – that, generally speaking, is not such a bad thing. A little independent, low-budget, digitally shot feature, Davide Ferrario’s film nevertheless doesn’t compromise on the scripting, technical or acting performances, delivering an original, charming low-key story, full of love for the filmmaking medium.
Being set in Turin immediately alerts us to the fact that this is a film well outside the mainstream metropolises – far from Mediterranean lifestyles and southern Italian passions. A narrator confirms this impression by introducing us to three fairly ordinary characters from a fairly notorious district of Turin called Falchera – none of them involved in political espionage, acting as secret bankers for the mafia, or living a glamorous lifestyle in the world of fashion and drug dealing. Angelo (Fabio Troiano) it’s true, is involved in the stealing of cars - but it’s strictly small-time, and he even has to pay the bus fare back to the city after dropping off the stolen vehicles. He hopes to one day be able to have enough money to buy his own Jaguar. Amanda (Francesca Inaudi) is the girlfriend of Angelo, or “The Angel of Falchera” as he is known – and she works the late shift in a fast food burger joint and wants to get out of it, hoping that her horoscope might offer some hope. Martino (Giorgio Pasotti) works as a custodian in the city’s famous Museum of Cinema at The Mole Antonelliana. He’s an amateur filmmaker, a fan of silent movies and Buster Keaton and spends his nights in the museum trawling through its film archives, looking for a lost world, different from our own, that he would rather belong to and dreaming of the girl who serves him his Double Fry Special in the burger joint every night. All of them have dreams of escape, but the chances of any of them achieving anything like it are slim. This isn’t the movies after all.
For most people outside the movie world however, particularly those who are too preoccupied with keeping down their dull, boring jobs to do anything more than just dream of a life-changing event occurring to them, the only thing that is likely to bring about any change in their lives is a chance encounter with someone who can change their view of the world. This is what happens when Amanda, having been pushed just that one step too far by her arrogant, pedantic and self-important loser of a boss, commits an irredeemable act of defiance and finds herself on the run, hiding out at the local museum where Martino works. Entranced by the simplicity of Martino’s little world and the promise of a fresh outlook on the world Amanda falls in love. But how can she break with The Angel, who might not have many prospects, but has at least always treated her well? She hopes an amicable solution can be reached. Martino however has seen an old French movie (“Jules et Jim” undoubtedly), and knows that these kind of situations don’t usually work out for the best.
It’s precisely this kind of self-referential knowingness that sets After Midnight apart from an Italian film industry that tends to take itself rather seriously. It’s a risky gamble that, particularly as it involves an omniscient narrator/story-teller, could make the film tip too far over into arty European post-modern pretentiousness in the manner say of Christoffe Boe’s Reconstruction, but After Midnight doesn’t take itself that seriously. Each of the characters expects their life to be directed and guided by some omnipotent force, that their destiny is written in the stars or in a mathematical equation, and can be changed by the winning numbers on a lottery ticket. If there is an arch tone in the voice of the narrator who steps in throughout, it’s there for another reason - to alert you to the construct and the theme that movies have the power to transform the lives of ordinary people. Not in the manner of creating an escapist fiction of “fatal attractions and guns”, but through their power to evoke a world, an attitude towards life and inspire a way of living that is at odds with modern lifestyles.
It’s an idealistic viewpoint but, to a large extent, the director achieves his aim. Fatal attractions and guns do play their part, but not in the life-changing manner they would in a regular film. The real drama in After Midnight arises from the everyday circumstances of a small group of ordinary characters, and the director keeps the film similarly low-key, with no flashy camera work or angles. There are a few interesting inserts of the characters as silent movie actors (filmed using an antique 9.5mm camera), which is in keeping with the film’s character, emphasising the film’s detachment from the falsity of modern-day cinematic conventions, and the desire of the characters to dramatise their own lives. It all adds up to a lovely and unpretentious little reflection on life, on movies, on stories, on fate and chance and the choices one makes that direct the course of our lives.
After Midnight is released in the UK by Yume Pictures. The DVD is encoded for Region 2 and is in PAL format.
This is the first DVD release I have seen from Yume Pictures and it’s impressive. After Midnight is principally shot on High-Definition Digital Video, although it never looks like a digital image. Shot on DV, the aspect ratio is correct at 1.78:1 and consequently there is not a flaw or mark evident anywhere on the transfer. Every scene, whether interior, exterior, daylight or night-time, shows plenty of detail and complete stability, with perfect colours and tones. Even a scene shot with a couple of candles looks perfectly clear and detailed. There is not a flicker of macro-compression artefacts, edge-enhancement or any other digital transfer errors. Perfect.
The audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 only. I’m sure there ought to be a surround mix of the film, but would have no idea how important it is to the film. Shot on a very low budget and lacking in any big action sequences, I would suspect that the straightforward 2.0 mix is more than adequate and didn’t hear any problems.
English subtitles are provided in a clear, white font and are optional.
In between behind-the-scenes footage of the shooting of the film, the director and crew explain how they overcame the limitations of a low budget to make the film, explaining choices in digital camera, the use of inexperienced and non-professional actors, right through to the set design and editing process.
Interview with director Davide Ferrario (7:42)
Speaking in excellent English, the director explains how the film came to be made, why he made certain casting and scripting choices and what the film means to him.
You would need to be very patient with the commentary track, as director Ferrario only provides a few brief comments scattered throughout the film. There are often long gaps of 5 to 10 minutes between his brief comments, but what he says is quite interesting. Most of what he says however is also covered in the Backstage documentary and interview, so I don’t think there is any benefit in persevering with this.
About Davide Ferrario
An informative text features provides details on the director’s diverse film and scriptwriting projects.
UK Trailer (2:39)
Using appropriate silent-movie style intertitles (in English), this captures the flavour of the film, but perhaps gives away too much of the film’s little moments.
Original Trailer (1:32)
The unsubtitled Italian trailer is slightly less linear, capturing the random nature of the film, but again giving away too many of the film’s little treats.
A homage to silent movies, to a more innocent way of living and making movies that doesn’t involve grand melodramatic devices and techniques, After Midnight is a refreshing antidote to the pumped-up clashes of religion, social issues, politics and crime that normally characterise Italian cinema. It speaks idealistically of the power of storytelling and movies to transform the lives of ordinary people, and through its innocent low-key, laid-back charm it almost convinces. Yume’s DVD edition of the film is exemplary, with a superb transfer and a good selection of extra features, that are far more than we would reasonably have expected for a small, low-budget, independent Italian film.