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by Emily Wardill
Night for Day does not simply focus on a relationship between mother and son. Night for Day is much more. And during its short running time, it retraces the milestones of Portugal’s recent history, with important connections to the present as well. Complete with references to the film world. At the Berlinale 2021, section Forum Expanded.
Mother and son
Past and present. Day and night. Bright light together with streets at night in the city of Lisbon. And, last but not least, a mother-son relationship that just needs to be deepened. A particularly complex and layered work, Night for Day. Made in 2020 by British artist Emily Wardill and commissioned by the Vienna Secession, this highly experimental medium-length film was presented at the Berlinale 2021 in the section Forum Expanded, one of the most interesting sections of the renowned Berlin film festival. It is no coincidence, then, that this work by Emily Wardill was selected precisely here.
Night for Day, in fact, does not simply focus on a relationship between mother and son. Night for Day is much more. And during its short running time, it retraces the milestones of Portugal’s recent history, with important connections to the present as well. Complete with references to the film world.
Isabel do Carmo is a woman living in Lisbon who, after joining the International Brigades, tried to bring down the longest fascist dictatorship in Europe. Her voice, thus, recounts the milestones of her story, alternating with the voices of two men – astrophysicists Alexander Bridi and Djelal Osman – who use a new computer programme to try to recognise moving images. Some captions question the woman – calling her mother – about her past. Emily Wardill’s camera does the rest.
We never see the protagonists’ faces. Yet, through their voices, their stories and the environments depicted, they seem more alive than ever. And as we struggle to find our way around the streets of Lisbon, blurred images of people going about their daily lives – complete with heavily overexposed light – give the entire work the character of a true stream of consciousness.
And then, last but not least, there is the house. The house shown here is the one built by architect Antonio Teixeira Guerra in 1974. A house with a singular triangular shape seen as an ideal place where mother and son can live in a kind of utopian universe. Here, Teixeira Guerra used to invite his friends during the so-called ‘magic hour’, that is, shortly before sunset, when the sunlight takes on particular orange hues. And it was precisely during this magic hour that Emily Wardill filmed inside the house, giving the whole thing a particular lyricism and a pleasantly contemplative mood.
And then, last but not least, there is cinema. Bridi and Osman study moving images. At the same time, clips from films such as The Tales of Hoffmann (Powel and Pressburger, 1951), Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017), Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014) and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) follow one another frantically before our eyes. And the study of images and, more generally, of cinema, immediately becomes the leading actor. It is up to it to find answers. It is precisely cinema that will have to find a link between past and present and will have to allow mother and son to finally meet, to get to know each other, to understand each other.
And so, immediately, Night for Day turns out to be a true declaration of love to the seventh art, which, in turn, is perfectly capable of breaking down barriers, of shortening distances, of allowing a mother and son to finally enjoy a quiet evening together inside their home with its huge windows, while outside the sun slowly sets.
Original title: Night for Day
Directed by: Emily Wardill
Country/year: Portugal, Austria / 2020
Running time: 47’
Cast: Isabel do Carmo, Djelal Osman, Alexander Bridi, Kimberley Pearl Febich, Paula Barco, Aurora Santos, Christina Gonçalves, Carloto Cotta
Screenplay: Emily Wardill
Cinematography: Emanuel Garcia, José Marques, Emily Wardill
Produced by: Stenar Projects, Secession