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KARLOVY VARY 2024 Proxima

Review: Night Has Come

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- Paolo Tizón’s documentary immerses the audience in the world of cadets training for the Peruvian special forces, soon to go off and fight in the country’s “cocaine valley”

Review: Night Has Come

The first feature-length documentary by Peruvian director Paolo Tizón, Night Has Come [+see also:
interview: Paolo Tizón
film profile
]
, might be a perfect film for Karlovy Vary’s Proxima Competition, where it has just world-premiered, as it really puts you in close proximity to its topic.

It’s about cadets in the special forces of the Peruvian army training for the conflict in VRAEM, the country’s “cocaine valley”. It opens in a helicopter, as they prepare for a jump. Tizón’s approach is impressionistic and immersive: he films in a 4:3 aspect ratio with a handheld camera, always in close-ups or medium shots, with an often-overwhelming sound design and no musical score. So it is in the chopper, too: the noise is deafening but is replaced by a sharp whoosh of the wind as the director suddenly switches to a view from the ground, showing us parachutists floating across the blue sky like jellyfish.

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Then we stay on the ground and witness the common procedures involved in introducing the cadets into the unit, with doctor’s exams and the shaving of heads. Before we go any further into what will gradually become a brutally gruelling training regime, we learn about the cadets from their conversations. Some such conversations are maybe held directly with the director, but usually, they take place in a group, whether in the barracks or in the thick of the jungle. As they eat tinned tuna with crackers, we realise that many of them are really just kids, trying to prove themselves to their fathers and sorely missing their mothers. One of them has a couple of video calls with his mum and dad, and he is the closest thing the film has to a protagonist. Tizón shows us neither individuals nor the big picture: the viewer is right there in the group with the cadets.

We spend time with them as they talk about action movies (while waiting in the forest, one of them watches one on his phone) and their romantic relationships. Often, they lie close to each other, sometimes in the same bunk, joking, laughing and expressing simple, relatable emotions. Even though no real homoerotic vibe can be detected, it is ironic to see a bunch of young, half-naked men lying on each other’s shoulders and talking about their girlfriends in this nominally most masculine of environments.

In the second half of the film, the real Full Metal Jacket-style bootcamp commences. The commanders are almost always off screen as they bark orders and insults, demanding dedication and professing the necessity of conquest and killing. The boys stand for hours on end holding their rifles above their heads, and they are made to lift tree trunks or learn how to stay warm in the cold water – all of them shivering despite the technique they are being taught.

And then comes the night, as the title says, and turns what might have been mistaken for a dream, due to the soft and slightly hazy quality of light in the exterior daytime scenes, into something akin to a nightmare. Tizón doesn’t use any artificial lighting, so often, the only illumination comes from bullets and explosions. The film’s impressive climax takes place in complete darkness, as the war chants and boot stomping intensify to an almost unbearable volume. It’s not real war yet, but it sounds like all of the armies in the world are advancing towards you – and you cannot even see them.

Night Has Come was produced by Cinesol Films (Peru) in collaboration with Tupay Cine (Peru), PCM Post (Mexico) and Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola (Spain).

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