Polish director-cinematographer Michal Marczak ascends to Malickean heights of oneiricism in this beautiful though broadly irksome chronicle of self-absorbed youth. Following a decadent duo in Warsaw over of a year of hazy hedonism, All These Sleepless Nights gestures towards the uncertainties of youth and the emotional flux that people often find themselves victims of at this liminal stage in life. With mountains of style and not all that much substance, Sleepless makes for rather unstable viewing that will leave its viewers both enticed and exasperated in annoyingly equal measure.
We open with the Warsaw cityscape, enveloped in colour and smoke from a New Year’s Eve fireworks display. A voiceover, that of Krzysztof Bagi?ski, pontificates about the way in which we ultimately spend our lives; 2 days spent deciding what to wear, 3 weeks eating cheeseburgers, 7 days breaking up with people. It’s a moment that sums up the film’s perfectly-entrancing cinematography, tempered by the rather risible rantings of a young and hedonistic zealot.
After breaking up with a long term girlfriend, Krzysztof and fellow voluptuary Michal conspire to fully experience the euphoria of youth. They strut around the city, cloaked by the night, like Dickensian flaneurs (had Dickens been perennially high on MDMA), sharing stories, smoking cigarettes, and attending an endless string of parties with other beautiful twenty-somethings. The narrative hits somewhat of a snag when Krzysztof begins to date Michal’s ex-girlfriend Eva, though to relatively little admonishment. As a rule, things glide glacially along in “too-cool-for-school” fashion.
The Warsaw tourist office has a lot to thank Marczak for. His artful cinematography paints a beguiling picture of a restless and sprawling city, replete with parties, drugs, and ceaselessly meandering conversations about everything and nothing. It is undoubtedly a beautiful film. To pause the film at any point is to capture a moment that won’t look incongruous framed in a gallery space. With the vast predominance of the film being shot at night or in low natural lighting, there is the standard sepia toned effect that Sundance favourites are known and loved for. No surprises then that Marczak picked up a directing award for his efforts at Sundance ‘16.
There is very little in the way of a storyline to grab hold of beyond simply the visual documentation of the pair’s youthful antics. This makes for rather a frustrating viewing experience; with the central focus and tone of the film established so early on, the film shifts awkwardly in the same narrative spot for what feels like a long 100 minutes. With the film being classified as a documentary (all of the actors play themselves), or perhaps an orchestrated reality, this does abate some of the frustration and ennui felt when watching it. Questions effortlessly arise on the nature of everyday life and the filmmaking process itself, with various shots notably including the cameraman being unceremoniously unveiled by reflective surfaces. However, this level of viewer interest is never amply held.
Words by George Washbourn