ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS Review
Director: Michal Marczak
Genre: Documentary, Drama
When I was 18 years old, I moved from Bucharest, Romania to pursue my undergraduate degree in film production in California. To call the experience a paradigm shift would be a wallop of an understatement. Gone were the long nights of bar-hopping and clubbing, thumping house music was replaced by the complex vocal arrangements of hip hop, and cheap beer had turned into long nights mixing weed and straight vodka. Being a college student in the United States almost felt like taking a few steps back into my adolescence, witnessing belligerent alcoholism the likes of which I’d never witnessed in Europe, perhaps exactly because hitting the town at a younger age introduced us to social drinking. It was this disenchantment with American youth that caused me to focus all the more on my passion for filmmaking, expanding my lexicon and opening my eyes (and ears) to art forms I had previously not encountered.
I think Michal Marczak was aware of this disconnect between Eastern European and American culture when he made ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. As a Sundance labs fellow, Marczak went through a competitive program in order to help bring his vision to life, and was clearly supported because he desperately wanted to show the flip side of the proverbial coin. Being young and in love feels the same regardless of where you are, but what you do when confronted with these feelings wholly depends on your geographical surroundings. Poland served as Marczak’s background for his sophomore outing, and quite brilliantly, he taps into the one thing all young Eastern Europeans share: out-and-out belligerence.
Squatting Slav Bruvs
When I think of my years growing up in Romania, they play out much like the vignettes presented in ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: mystically interwoven anecdotes of a life lived, moving with the free-wheeling spirituality of Lubezki’s work in a Malick film. We remember sentences, gestures, winks, smiles, and glances, but never the big picture. When reminded of New Year’s Eve, we are more likely to recall our back alley vomit over the cab ride to the club; that is, unless something really wacky happened in that taxi. And that’s the appeal to Marczak’s project. It is an unfiltered walk through memory lane. Whether it means anything or nothing is sort of irrelevant. The fact that one can doze off for five minutes during a viewing of ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS is sort of the point. It doesn’t pressure you for attention, but rather surrenders itself unto the screen, allowing you to choose when to tune in.
So it goes without saying that Marczak’s film is undeniably gorgeous. The soft, milky tapestries of Warsaw at dusk generously clash with the deep blackness of a town square being lit up by the pull of a cigarette. Lead actors Krzysztof Baginski and Michal Huszcza perform with a carefree naturalism that exudes vulnerability and pocketed frustration. The documentary qualities of ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS are clear as day; it is a city-portrait rendered through the staged performances of individuals performing for the camera. But it isn’t really important what genre Marczak’s film is classified as, because its core intention is to be honest, and it does so in both mediums.
Gimme Dat Deepside Deejays
But where ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHT falters is in its attempt at story. Not unlike the works of Malick’s latest efforts, it bogs itself down the moment it exits the languid state and into the clichés of love-triangles and jealousy. Both directors understand how to capture love, less so frustration. And again, much like Malick, I can attribute this failure to the camerawork more than the directing. Marczak’s film flows through its cityscape with the help of its—admittedly self-gratifying—steadicam. It’s beautiful and easily places the viewer right into the shoes of the intoxicated youth, but it also takes away from the urgency of more dramatic situations. When our protagonists are upset, sad, or venting their frustrations, the camera continues to float with the same ease. Near the end of Marczak’s 100-minute dreamscape, he has his protagonist exclaim compliments to strangers in a park. In this sequence the camera finally settles, accepting that it might be best not to move, a decision I had gladly welcomed earlier in the film.
As an Eastern European, I see great merit in Marczak’s work. While the similarities to Malick will be the easiest calling card for American viewers, foreigners will welcome its authentic tableau of midnight memories. The thematic density of an Andrea Arnold film is vacant here, and the most essential qualities of Malick’s filmmaking are tossed to the wayside for more surface-level similarities. But for all it rejects, it welcomes a documentarian sense of authenticity (justifying its slot in Sundance’s documentary section). Whether from Poland, Romania, or the Czech Republic, Marczak’s film is a virtual collage of everything experienced between ages 16 and 30. While its narrative never dials up for full potency, there is something greatly refreshing in this type of aesthetic menagerie. ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS isn’t so much an accomplished film as it is a perfect encapsulation of time and space, an effortlessly edited series of handicam vacation videos. Take it at face value, and let yourself drift into the night.