Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s evocative exploration of nocturnal Europe made its premiere at Austria’s Diagonale last year. Additional festival exposure has included Visions du Reel, Hot Docs, Planete Doc, Sarajevo, MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, and True/False, picking up awards or special mentions along the way at several of these events.
Geyrhalter’s film is a perfect fit for the series at Maysles, which considers people’s interaction with their spaces. Eschewing a conventional narrative structure, Geyrhalter’s film looks at exactly this – what people do in their environment. The focus here, however, is what happens at night. Through a series of unrelated but thematically connected scenes, his camera visits a myriad of subjects and activities – from medical professionals tending to newborns to anti-nuclear protestors blocking trains, from dancers at a massive concert to politicians discussing war. Absent narration or even cards, viewers would be hard-pressed to identify everything they see, but, to be fair, that hardly seems to be the point. Common themes emerge around notions of surveillance, control, and routine, painting a picture of Europe as somewhat protective of itself and not always open to outsiders. While the film at times is paced too slowly, it offers a distinct and sometimes thought-provoking alternative to the “day in the life” documentary.