‘Nocturna’ review: A dark night of the soul
By Jeannette Catsoulis
Divided into two distinct features — the first of which can stand alone, while the second may work best as a dialogue with the first — “Nocturna” weaves memory and nightmare into a haunting tale of loneliness and regret.
In “Side A — The Great Old Man’s Night,” we meet Ulysses (Pepe Soriano), a confused nonagenarian who lives with his infirm wife, Dalia (Marilú Marini), in a run-down apartment whose soaring ceilings and clouded windows enclose a spacious prison. When Ulysses tries to go shopping, he is gently deterred by the building’s super; yet their food supplies are dwindling, and Ulysses wonders why he can never leave, why their son never visits, and why he can’t recall their estranged daughter’s name. Maybe Dalia is right, and the homeowners’ association will evict them if they see how the couple is living. Or maybe his confinement is just the latest in a lifetime of Dalia’s cruelties.
Like Ulysses, we search for answers, but the Argentine writer and director, Gonzalo Calzada, is interested only in dropping clues. As the clock creeps into the wee hours, the couple is awakened by their upstairs neighbor, Elena (Desirée Salgueiro), pounding on their door and screaming for help. A surging atmosphere of dread and danger envelops the film as a terrified Ulysses retreats into golden memories of a childhood game of hide-and-seek. The ghosts in the building, however — and the body in his courtyard — will not let him be.
Sad and strange and deeply upsetting, “Side A” profits from Claudio Beiza’s velvety, gray-green images and a soundtrack pulsing with heartbeats and the distressing whine of Ulysses’ hearing aid. Our assumptions about his life and marriage may harden; but not until “Side B — Where the Elephants Go to Die,” are they enriched and interrogated. Here, Calzado uses more experimental techniques to expand his narrative, paralleling the flickering impermanence of filmed images with physical and psychological decay. Together, these unusual films do more than contemplate loss and longing: They warn us that the time to make amends might be briefer than we think.
‘Nocturna: Side A — The Great Old Man’s Night’Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. Available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.
‘Nocturna: Side B — Where the Elephants Go to Die’Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 7 minutes. Available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.