Monday, January 17, 2022

Nocturna “Sides” A & B

What is scarier than death? Living badly, without your full capacities. What is worse than that? Regret for the mistakes that separated you from your loved ones. 
At least that is what the experiences of an aging Argentinian man would suggest. He will confront all these grim realities and possibly also the supernatural (or perhaps not) during what could be his last night on Earth in Gonzalo Calzada’s Nocturna: Side A—The Great Old Man’s Night and its more experimental companion film, Nocturna: Side B—Where the Elephants Go to Die, both of which release tomorrow as a “double bill” on VOD.

is sort of like the horror version of Haneke’s Amour. In fact, scenes of the confused Ulises lost in the halls of his once grand apartment building summon memories of Jean-Louis Trintignant in a similar position. However, Ulises’ marriage to Dalia is not as loving as the one portrayed by Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. For one thing, viewers are clearly invited to question whether she is even still alive. Regardless, we learn from flashbacks Dalia bullied Ulises when they were children and there is reason to believe the dynamic continued throughout their union.

Sadly, Ulises’ strained relationships with his grown children is a profound disappointment for him. Most of his human interaction is with the reasonably patient but not especially warm building super. However, he also once knew the upstairs neighbor Elena, who is apparently now dead and haunting the old couple by pounding on their door each night. Eventually, we will figure out what happened to everyone when Ulises finally starts piecing together his fragments of shattered memory.

Side A
(107 minutes) is a surprisingly ambitious, yet fundamentally humanist take on horror, aging, and the horror of aging that is radically different from Calzada’s last US-distributed film, Luciferina. Arguably, the companion Side B (a mere 67 minutes) is even more ambitious, representing a sort of Guy Maddin-esque reverie, presenting the events of Side A through ghostly streams-of-consciousness. Side A stands alone and it is exponentially more accessible, so most of this review will focus on it. There is an audience for Side B’s distorted analog aesthetic, but casual viewers would need Side A to understand the context of each scene.

Pepe Soriano plays Ulises in both films and it is a relentlessly honest and cathartic performance (especially in
Side A). The 92-year-old veteran thesp is obviously credible as the physically and mentally declining Ulises, but the guilt and remorse he projects from the screen is almost overwhelming. He is also convincingly frightened to his bones.

Marilu Marini is sometimes scary, in an almost Mother Bates kind of way as Dalia. However, something always feels off about her, in a way that sort of telegraphs later developments. On the other hand, Desiree Salgueiro is wild and fierce, but also acutely wretched and pitiable as Elena.

Side A
is an unusually harrowing film, especially because so many of us could ultimately share aspects of Ulises’ fate. The trick is to reach his advanced age without the accumulated regrets. This is probably one of the more thoughtful genre explorations of aging, even more so than The Taking of Deborah Logan and The Manor (but the latter Blumhouse film is still more fun). Nocturna: Side A is recommended for most sophisticated horror viewers, whereas Nocturna: Side B is only for the seriously adventurous, when both sides of Nocturna release tomorrow (1/18) on VOD.