Some road movies enter the cultural zeitgeist, such as Thelma & Louise, and even Y Tu Mamá También to a lesser extent. There is just something alluring about hitting the open road, and the actual journey along said highway doesn’t need to have an actual direction, so long as the movie itself has one. The actual journey taken in Helle Nächte (Bright Nights) has a clear direction, although disappointingly, the film does not.
When Michael (Georg Friedrich) learns that his estranged father has passed away in the wilds of northern Norway, he takes it upon himself to drive there, bringing along his estranged 14-year old son Luis (Tristan Göbel). And that is pretty much it in terms of plot. To connect with his son while en route to say a final farewell to the father he disconnected from a long time ago should seem like ample motivation for Michael. But motivation should come with a semblance of enthusiasm (even though the catalyst for this journey is a death), and this is infuriatingly absent here. It’s interesting to ponder quite how Friedrich and Göbel approached their roles, since the characters are so minimalist that an audience might forget their existence when they disappear from the screen for even a fraction of a second.
A character’s motivation doesn’t have to be overt, even in a work such as this, but it needs to be discernible, if only in an abstract way. Helle Nächte (Bright Nights) is still a movie, after all. It’s a narrative constructed, filmed and edited for a viewer’s consumption, who in this case is likely to wonder just why the characters are even bothering. Hopefully the audience won’t also be asking themselves why they bothered to watch the film. There are some stunning visuals depicting Norway in all its glory, but that is simply not enough to save this aimless effort.
Helle Nächte (Bright Nights) does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.