Cosmo Jarvis does it again

If anyone had any doubts about Cosmo Jarvis’ talent after the fantastic Lady MacBeth and his phenomenal turn in Nick Rowland’s Calm With Horses (also known as The Shadow Of Violence in the US), Nocturnal is here to remind you that Jarvis is one of the most talented actors working today.

Nocturnal centres on a 30-something Pete (Jarvis) and a 16-year-old Laurie (Lauren Coe), who strike up a strange friendship, largely focussed on drinking together. Pete is a lonely painter who lives in an almost empty house, while Laurie has just moved to town but is drawn to the considerably older man for companionship and validation. While Nocturnal has you expecting the friendship to become icky and problematic, it strangely never does, but director Nathalie Biancheri drops plenty of hints that not everything is at it seems and there’s more at play here than we are led to believe.

Jarvis turns in another transcendent performance here as Pete, a character who has a lot going on under the surface. Jarvis once again uses his physicality to communicate a character’s inner life; Pete’s gaze is often aimed at the floor and while his body might be strong and able, it’s also awkward and lacks confidence, as is evident from his poor posture. Pete often resembles a man about to cave in on himself or crumble into nothingness, disappearing into thin air. Jarvis’ ability to do so much with so little, especially in terms of dialogue, proves to be the key here as he transforms Pete from an evident creep into a man with a haunted look in his eyes.

Equally impressive is Coe as Laurie. Her much more explosive and energetic performance compliments Jarvis’ more quiet turn. Coe effortlessly toes the line between Laurie’s naivety and her desire to be taken seriously, especially by men. At 16, she’s so close to adulthood that she can almost taste it, teased by the cheeky shots of whiskey she shares with Pete while loving the attention he gives to her. There’s nothing more intoxicating than the adoration and attention of an older man to an adolescent girl, and Biancheri’s film does a fine job at communicating that without ever becoming problematic.

While the film almost runs out of things to say in the middle and the narrative begins to drag a little, Biancheri’s film is constantly interesting to watch. Michal Dymak’s cinematography consists of organic, handheld camera work and a lot of bright lights shot through rainy windows. One of the film’s best scenes takes place in a silent disco, through which Pete wanders in search of Laurie, who surprises him with a pair of headphones. The near silent scene suddenly bursts with music and life but seems to make Pete uncomfortable and overwhelmed. It’s a scene completely void of dialogue, but Jarvis’ performance here speaks volumes.  

Nocturnal works best as a character study and a look at our own expectations when it comes to masculinity. Jarvis is yet again magnetic on screen and shares wonderful and authentic chemistry with the young Coe. At times, Nocturnal almost gets lost in its pretty visuals that occasionally have very little to say and it can’t quite fill its relatively short running time with meaningful scenes. Scenes often repeat themselves and because Biancheri focuses too tightly on these two characters, it feels a little thin and overstretched. Sadie Frost is impressive as Laurie’s mum and the script could have explored the relationship between her and Laurie more, but it’s still a mightily impressive film.

Nocturnal is in cinemas and available on VOD platforms September 18.

Maria Lattila

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

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