Diamonds of the Night (1964)

26 11 2008

Lately, it seems like I’ve been watching a lot of rather unique films, but this has to be the single most unique cinematic experience I’ve had in a long time. A 63 minute movie that is essentially just two guys running and walking through a forest, but of course, it is so much more than that. Jan Nemec probably had about 45 minutes worth of a footage but the groundbreaking editing extends it to a cloudy, dreamy, and completely heartbreaking hour long masterpiece. There’s literally only about one page of a dialogue in the whole film, which of course, fits in perfectly with my cinematic ideal.

I really can’t emphasize how much Nemec accomplishes with so little. Half of the film is just two guys walking through a forest. I can’t but wonder how crazy his actors thought he was when he told them what they would have to do. Honestly, I would have been a bit scared and under the impression that this guy had no idea what he was doing. Nemec probably didn’t know what he was doing, but that definitely works in his favor. When I first saw Herzog’s Aguirre two or three years ago, it was a landmark in my own movie watching career because it presented the opportunity for film to exist without any sense of a “narrative structure.” This does the exact same thing.

Plenty of the films I talk about here can be classified as “plotless” but even slow minimalistic Asian films have something of a story to them, or at least a dramatic thrust, or some context to the characters. Nemec’s film on the other hand, starts with none of these elements and only slowly reveals the past of his protagonists through carefuly composed flashes to the past. Calling these sequences “flashbacks” create a completely false impression. Some of the things Nemec cuts to have little to no signifigance, but that’s what makes them so powerful. It seems like the two protagonists are trying to retrace their steps to explain how they got into their current situation, but it all remains a mystery.

Some of the elliptical flashes are repeated throughout the entire film with either small amendments or no changes at all. One could argue that Nemec is just padding his film’s length, but this repetition seems to reinforce the importance of memories. All of these flashes are hauntingly poetic with a poignancy obtained by the current situation the two lead characters are in. I say “current” but I feel that completely disagrees with what makes the film so special and that is how flawlessly it demolishes a sense of time which corresponds to the runaway lifestyle of the two men.

If there is one problem with the movie, it is the slightly odd conclusion. After fifty minutes of pure kinetic energy, sub-Buñuel social humor begins to creep in. What is being said here is of little interest to me, but it does seem like Nemec is satirizing something. The fact that the main characters seem to be escaping from a train headed to a concentration camp implies that some statement is going to be made, but the best thing about the film is how it completely sheds that context.