A Film a Week - She Came at Night / Prišla v noci

 previously published on Cineuropa

There must be a reason why there are so many mother-in-law (or father-in-law) jokes in every language and culture. Family life is hard, and people who share genes, not to mention those who are related only by marriage, do not necessarily have compatible personalities. Jan Vejnar and Tomáš Pavlíček’s She Came at Night, which has just premiered in the Special Screenings section of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, takes a relatively ordinary family situation and slowly turns it into an extreme one.

Jirka (Jiří Rendl, glimpsed in a number of recent Czech films like Droneman, Charlatan and Zátopek) and Aneta (Annette Nesvadbová, most active on television) are an ordinary, young, urban couple. She is exhausted at her hospital job as an ergotherapist, while he is a freelance translator, currently busy translating a book of Soviet-era Latvian jokes. They have their minor niggles, but their real problems will occur when the titular “she” comes one night.

“She” is Jirka’s mother, Valerie (Simona Peková, in full-on diva mode), who apparently has no place to stay after her latest partner left her, and she asks her son – who knows full well her history of mess-ups and, perfectly reasonably, has a foreboding sense that chaos will ensue – if she can stay for just one night. One night turns into several days, and then weeks, while Valerie invades the couple’s privacy and meddles in their life and their choices further and further. As a consequence of her presence in their day-to-day life and their flat, the rifts between Jirka and Aneta slowly get deeper and wider. But the culmination, and the point where the movie veers from sitcom into horror-like territory, comes when Valerie brings along her newest boyfriend (and he brings his friends), and they take over the apartment completely.

Pavliíček already has some experience with the feature-length format and comedy as a genre (as demonstrated by his previous films Totally Talking and Bear With Us, which both premiered at Karlovy Vary), while Vejnar has made a name for himself with genre-infused shorts enveloped in an unsettling atmosphere. In theory, She Came at Night would seem like the perfect way to marry their previously established poetics, and the blend they make together is smooth and seamless. Along with several smart moves, like the already handheld camerawork by Šimon Dvořáček getting more fidgety and editor Jakub Vansa’s cuts getting more rapid, with frequent “visits” to the close-ups on Valerie’s face whenever she starts one of her monologues, the key thing the filmmakers get right is making the transition between the genres and their respective atmospheres slow and gradual, as the tension between the three characters builds up.

The helmers also get the casting choices spot-on and work with their chosen actors sure-handedly, leaving them enough freedom for interplay. With his permanently “long” face, Jiří Rendl is convincing as the non-alpha male in the couple, while Anette Nesvadbová is compelling as an overworked and fed-up woman on the verge of simply not being able to take it any more. However, it is Simona Peková who steals the limelight here, making her character a notable addition to the mother-from-hell type and contributing significantly to the fact that She Came at Night is not just an easy watch, but also an accomplished cinematic effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment