Nocturnal - LFF 2019
Directed by Nathalie Biancheri
Nathalie Biancheri’s directorial debut is a typically British production. Her unassuming and unpretentious camerawork ensures that everything we witness feels completely authentic. This made my viewing experience all the more uncomfortable as thirty-something handyman Pete (Cosmo Jarvis) attempts to befriend teenage schoolgirl Laurie (Lauren Coe).
We’re introduced to Pete peering through iron bars at the youthful Laurie. There’s something immediately unsettling about his gaze. He’s awkwardly positioning himself in and around her frequent hangouts. When he’s not watching Laurie, he’s either sleeping with a variety of women or rolling paint on somebody's wall to earn a living. Laurie meanwhile is struggling to fit in at her new school having recently moved back from Dublin to England with her mum. She throws herself into her pursuits as an aspiring athlete, distancing herself from the brattish girls around her. Eventually, Laurie gives in to Pete’s attention and agrees to hang out with him. So begins a unique alcohol-fuelled relationship between the two, a horrible tension simmering just below the surface.
Unfortunately, I was aware of a certain plot device that would have been best kept a secret before sitting down to watch this. As such, I find it hard to say how effectively Pete’s true intentions are concealed from the audience. I can, however, say that it is thoroughly believable that Laurie in her vulnerable state would be taken in by Pete. There’s actually something incredibly compelling about their ‘friendship’ as it begins to blossom. Like a car crash waiting to happen you can’t look away. Even if you don’t see it coming, you sense that the minute they began hanging out together, a fuse has been lit somewhere. The question is when and where will it go off and who will be most damaged by it.
Jarvis and Coe are simply incredible in the lead roles. Their natural performances lean in to Biancheri’s authentic approach to directing which makes for an immersive viewing experience. I sometimes think that this very British (or should I say European) style of acting goes unrecognised and unrewarded far too often. The truth is it’s just as hard to convincingly portray a real three-dimensional character that you might find in a documentary as it is to ‘turn it up to 11’ for an Oscar-worthy performance. There’s no over the top exaggeration here. It’s intimate, it’s humble, it’s truthful and it’s effective.
Despite this the story does suffer from that slight sense of ‘is that it?’ by the time the credits roll. Whilst there are some important themes at play I can't help but feel that there is not a lot more going on than this one particular narrative. Once the dust has settled there is nothing to think about and nothing to sink your teeth into and dissect. That’s a great shame given some of the social commentary that underpins the narrative.
At best, Nocturnal shows a remarkably lifelike portrayal of two lost souls finding comfort with each other in ultimately destructive ways. Spearheaded by a wonderful director, outstanding performances from the central cast and an intimate script, it wins you over completely. I found myself wanting the best for both Pete and Laurie, even though it doesn’t feel like the best is possible for either of them. By the films emotionally-charged climax I was left heartened yet slightly disappointed. Perhaps that’s exactly what Pete and Laurie are feeling too. I just needed more than that.