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Review: Nights Gone By


- Alberto Martín Menacho’s first feature film introduces us to daily life in a seemingly sleepy village in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula

Review: Nights Gone By

Presented in a world premiere at Visions du Réel where it’s currently screening in the International Competition, Nights Gone By [+see also:
interview: Alberto Martín Menacho
film profile
(Antier noche) by the Spanish director who trained at HEAD in Geneva Alberto Martín Menacho is a first film of great delicacy, which seamlessly combines documentary and fiction, ancestral rites and electronic music, voice messages and falconry. Steeped in family memories of a now almost mythical Estremadura, which blend into his own day-to-day life as a millennial, Alberto Martín Menacho allows himself to be transported by the beauty of the arid Spanish lands and the micro-realities which still characterise them.

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Accompanying us on this captivating journey, veering between ancestral traditions such as hare hunting with galgos dogs - Spanish greyhounds – and a need to escape, are four youngsters: an aspiring musician who works in a small supermarket, a boy fascinated by hunting, a DJ with a passion for tattoos who works as a farmer, and a mum who gets by on odd jobs. By way of these individuals and their desire to leave, but also the love they feel for this land which no longer seems to offer much, Alberto Martín Menacho examines the role of certain activities which no longer seem relevant in today’s hyper-technological society. Yet in these semi-abandoned regions, the need to be confronted with the force of nature and to explore the primitive side which sleeps within us continues to exist, a vestige of a violent but also highly poetic humanity.

Just like the galgos dogs, capable of running incredibly quickly but incapable of escaping a future of deprivation and violence (many of them are abandoned when they’re no longer fit to hunt), the film’s four protagonists struggle with modern-day addictions: mobile phones, video games, relationships destined to end badly, and the impossibility of leaving a land which is holding them prisoner. What the director is depicting, therefore, is the daily lives of individuals wrestling with the contradictions in their own lives. United by the desire to escape, without knowing where they would actually go, and suffocated by a boredom which finds its echoes in the nigh-on desert-like expanses surrounding them, the film’s protagonists continue to hope, against all odds, that they’ll squeeze out of their chrysalises. In the meantime, it’s by way of exciting summer loves, music, and cathartic rave beats, but also a clandestine activity which isn’t looked kindly upon anymore - hare hunting with galgos dogs - that they vent their secret rebellion.

Alberto Martín Menacho manages to capture and communicate micro-realities which harbour elements of our past within them, like fossils, but which might otherwise pass unobserved. Much like the expression, which is now an archaic one, which lends the film its title [meaning ‘The Night Before Last’], the small village which the director focuses on becomes an echo of a world which no longer exists, if not in the memories of those who still live there. It’s these contradictory energies coexisting in this small region, suspended between the past and the present, between humanity and animality, and between electronic distortions and dogs barking, which turns the present into poetry.

At the intersection between Bresson’s magic, Pasolini’s cruel realism and Harmony Korine’s modernity, Alberto Martín Menacho manages to turn immobility into a vital life force.

Nights Gone By is produced by Switzerland’s Lomotion Filmproduktion AG and Spain’s Esia Studio, together with SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen.

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(Translated from Italian)

Photogallery 27/09/2023: San Sebastián 2023 - Nights Gone By

9 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

© 2023 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa -, Dario Caruso

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