Stretching far out into the distance lies an empty expanse of white. It’s an inhospitable environment, one you’d have to be mad to venture into. That’s exactly what Josephine Peary, wife of the famous explorer Robert intends to do though. The 65th Berlin Film Festival opens with this overblown tale of peril, longing and understanding on the hunt for the North Pole, complete with glimpses of bombastic success amidst painfully overplayed melodrama.
That Berlinale regular Isabel Coixet aims big in Nobody Wants the Night is undeniable. On occasion, she hits the target square in the middle. Juggling arduous survival with gender roles and racial inequality, Coixet crafts several strong moments. It’s a pity there are many more that almost play as a naked parody of this kind of issues based epic storytelling.
There’s a distinct large scale Hollywood feel circa Charlton Heston mixing together awkwardly with television period drama and intimate character study. Juliette Binoche, no stranger to sprawling epics, takes the lead role as Josephine. She’s come north to head out into Greenland in the hope of being near her husband when he reaches the North Pole. Robert’s basecamp team try to dissuade her, but she brushes aside concerns, striking out with experienced guide Bram, played by an exceedingly hairy Gabriel Byrne.
Predictably, it all goes a little pear shaped, and Josephine ends up stuck in a cabin with the only Inuit who wouldn’t flee, a pregnant woman named Allaka (Rinko Kikuchi) who may have known her husband a little more than Josephine finds comfortable. It’s the scenes between the two that strive the hardest to mean something, and also fail the most. Hammy dialogue and ridiculous gestures – at one point Josephine goes rolling around in the snow to work off some grief – hamper the creation of a genuine bond between them. As the pampered westerner learns to give up dresses and respect the unassuming Inuit it becomes painfully right on.
Coixet shows a sharper eye for the relationship, or lack thereof, between Josephine and Robert. His obsession with conquering the Pole has taken him away from the family that adores him. In the last sixteen years he’s been back with them for fourteen months. Desperate to participate in his moment of glory, and fearful that he won’t return to her if she can’t, Josephine’s ridiculous behaviour suddenly makes more sense.
There are also a number of impressively stark images scattered throughout the two hour running time. The purity of the snow is splattered deep red on more than one occasion, while an avalanche that lands on a pack of dogs not so much tugs as yanks hard at heartstrings.
It’s simply not enough though. Shaky cameras combined with lush lighting sum up the jarring divide between the part of her film that wants to be an epic, and the other half aiming for intense character study. Into the chasm between these two poles, Coixet thrusts themes dealt with crudely. The end result is something of a mess.
Director: Isabel Coixet
Writer: Miguel Barros (screenplay)
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Rinko Kikuchi, Gabriel Byrne
Runtime: 118 min
Country: Spain, France, Bulgaria