(Portugal 2020; Dir: Pedro Peralta)

Perpetual Night

nocturnal nurturing

review by Inge Coolsaet

Perpetual Night

original title: Noite Perpétua

length: 17

year of production: 2020

country of production: Portugal

director: Pedro Peralta

production: João Matos

director of photography: João Ribeiro

editing: Francisco Moreira, Hugo Leitão

cast: Paz Couso, Matilde Couso de Arcos, Domicilia Nunes, Sara Piris

festivals: International Short Film Festival Leuven 2020, Go Short 2020, San Sebastian 2020, Film Fest Ghent 2020

© images: 'Perpetual Night' (Pedro Peralta)

Two Falangists disturb the domestic evening rituals of Paz' family while she takes her baby out of the bathtub. They order her to come down to the police station. Knowing what fate awaits the wive of a Republican soldier, she readies herself for a last embrace with her sister, niece and children.

There are hardly any cuts in ‘Perpetual Night’, Pedro Peralta's third film. His seventeen-minute short is a meticulously elaborated choreography in which lens, lighting and movements are carefully blended. The Portuguese filmmaker remains with these choices faithful to style, method and team that earned him superlatives and awards for his previous short film 'Ascension' (2016).

The frugal dialogues and Francisco Moreira's sparse editing give the lens of director of photography João Ribeiro plenty of space. His camera sways through the room, dives deep into the frame and boldy guides our gaze while Paz negotiates her departure with the soldiers. She wants to breast-feed her baby one last time. When the proud woman closes the door, her decision is made. The camera retreats as if by order of her sigh. The frame is stretched open to include the two other women who re-enter the stage. Their comforting presence fills the negative space on either side of the feeding mother. Her fate is sealed, but they'll be there until the end.

The whining songs of nocturnal birds replace the cries of the child who has been put to sleep. The night is restless. The soundtrack highlights the intensity of the impending goodbye in the same way the candlelight strokes Paz' tired face and hands. The political contrasts of the Spanish Civil War seep through the Caravaggesque aesthetics. Scant light reveals the tenderness and solidarity between the women but the darkness outside weighs heavy.

The technical challenges tackled testify to the impeccable skills of the filmmaker. ‘Perpetual Night' is a carefully calculated dance that draws inspiration from both theatre and pictorial arts to give gravity and texture to the fatality of Paz' pivotal life moment. Pedro Peralta's talent celebrates the dignity of his fearless protagonist.

This review was previously published in Dutch on Kortfilm.be.