Generally speaking, I’ve found this happens when storytellers prefer some low-key political messaging. I watch films not to figure out how I think about life but – like most – for escape. If you want me to do something about lead in the water, then there’s a time and place for that. I just don’t like it invading my downtime. Still other times are when all involved in the production figure that they’re assembled with big, grand mystery; but it’s so obviously put together to obfuscate the central puzzle that viewers are deliberately watching for seams. Lastly, I loathe films that espouse a limited ideology: trust your viewers to think for themselves, not to show up waiting for you to beat the drum for them, and you have a vastly healthier relationship between seller and consumer. Call me quaint: it’s just how I am.
For all of its creative posturing, Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night felt like a combination of the above; and perhaps that’s why it failed to touch me in the way that it likely will others. I like its characters. I like its setting. I like its story. But the combination didn’t work, mostly because of its construction. This doesn’t make it a bad film in any estimation; it’s just clear that it didn’t mean to me what it might to you.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“Ulysses is a hundred-year-old man, battling for redemption on his last night on earth. Faced with imminent death, he is forced to rethink his past, his present and his take on reality.”
Trust me when I say that there’s no topic that should escape filmdom. Everything should be on the table for cinematic discussion, and that means that even subjects that make us most uncomfortable are worthy of exploration. The problem, however, is that there are good ways of going about it and less-than-good ways; and these lesser ways tend to create a bit of controversy amongst viewers about how well the end result was ultimately achieved.
Critically, it’s easy to see where a certain group of people will flock to praise a feature like Nocturna. It’s well conceived and admirable performed; my quibbles with it lie almost exclusively with its assembly, and, in that respect, writer/director Gonzalo Calzada and I would likely never see eye-to-eye. He packs his story with long sequences of this kindly old Ulysses (played to perfection by Pepe Soriano) mostly walking from room-to-room in his unusually expansive apartment or with him taking long, heartfelt stares at the possessions and events of his life and memory. Clearly, this elderly man is at life’s ultimate crossroads, but Calzada wants to ensure that there’s absolutely no doubt, so much so that I occasionally felt my life slipping away while waiting for something to substantively happen.
Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of positives to what was achieved here. Ulysses’ life gets reviewed in flashbacks – some of which may or may not have been clouded over with failing memory – and there are some moments delivered that understandably tug on the audience’s heartstrings in exactly the way intended. My issue here is the pacing of it all, and in that respect Nocturna is entirely too long given its ultimate destination … which everyone likely knows five minutes into this trip.
Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night is produced by Coruya Cine and La Puerta Cinematografica.
Mildly recommended. Sorry, folks, if I’m being honest, then it’s hard to give Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night any ringing endorsement. Conceding that it has a solid central performance from Pepe Soriano, there’s just little else that touches a chord with me. The narrative attempts to achieve a measure of novelty with a premise that’s been done before, and the exceedingly long takes that could’ve easily been shortened do the overall pace of the motion picture no favors. Critically, I’m in the minority with this opinion, but I’ve gotta be true to my word. It doesn’t fail; it just doesn’t truly take me anywhere I haven’t been before.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Breaking Glass Pictures provided me with a complimentary streaming link of Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.