By: Hooman Razavi
What do Night and Cinema share in common, one may wonder? It is the secrets and stories that they harbinger, and once out, it can open the minds, eyes, and souls. On a Magical Night, the latest film of French director Christopher Honore who has worked in diverse areas as children books, novels, scripts, theatre and opera along with filmmaking career, does exactly all these with excellent casting of Chira Mastroianni (Maria), Benjamin Biolay (Richard), Vincent Lacoste ( Younger Richard) and Camille Cottin (Irene). The story is a meditation on classic and eternal themes of turmoil in marriage, fidelity, loyalty, life without children, and encountering self and others. The story takes place at night in Paris in two locales, a house, and a hotel nearby, and the events frequently zigzag along with characters and their state of mind and emotions.
Right off the start, the romantic music and framing set the tones to Maria’s state of mind and Richard crushed ego. The camera in all early scenes (In Maria’s house) closely follows the emotionality of characters, more close-up when the intensity goes up and more idly distant once tension subsides briefly. Also, shot-reverse-shot use was complementary and showed the tension of the quarreling scene and the heated discussions. The dialogues are intense and powerful. In one smashing moment, Maria replied to the accusation being unfaithful, “We are not competing for marital merit.”| It is, in a sense, tough to make quick judgments on any character. The superb acting of Chira Mastroianni (won Cesar award for best actress for the role) and Benjamin Biolay- former real couple, really reinforces this state of judgment suspension. Following this phase of the plot, Maria steps out, but the next question is where she can take refuge. She looks outside, the camera follows her gaze, zooming out and turning to the- Hotel Lenox.
The setting of the film is also craftily introduced and depicted as Maria goes to a nearby Hotel. So far, everything seems normal. However, the hotel is beside a film theatre, maybe accidental. It is also a snowy day. All these signs signal separation and longing, the two different tendencies and themes that On a Magical Night touches profoundly. In a hotel, the real drama begins. In a matter of a few minutes, there are a few new characters all entering the story, unexpectedly, all from different times and eras, each adding a new backside story and peak to the film. First, a young boy, who is the younger version of Richard, shows up. It is him that Maria now desires. He is 25 years younger and naturally sexier. But once the audience is getting used to seeing Richard Junior's surreal character and has passionate sex with Maria, Irene (Richard childhood lover and ex-piano teacher) whose name was brought up earlier in the infidelity scenes show up. And she is followed by Maria’s mother and her grandmother. It seems a hotel is a time machine that holds all characters’ secrets. It is here that film aptly shows the complexity of personal relationships, the stability of the erotic self, and the nature of memory. It may disturb some and look funny to others, but Honore skilfully shows these layers and impossibility of settling on questions of desire, marriage, and solitude. The hotel continues to be a mystery. Then in the next few scenes, the frames get crowded and more crowed. All Maria’s lovers, including Asdrubal, come to the hotel and Room 212, along with resurrecting of Charles Aznavour, who is not in his typical singer shoe but Maria and the film’s voice of conscience and omnipotent character. The dialogues and actions get more serious, and as much it is comic to watch the scenes and Maria’s messy affairs, there is much to contemplate.
Richard finally meets Irene. It is the old lovers finally connected, but is the surprise reunion transient. The child, as another surprising character, is tossed in the mise-en-scene, but it turns into a soulless doll, which signifies the death of the desires and the child Irene could never have. The film ending scenes confront the viewers with scenes in which characters become self-reflexive. Irene meets an older version of herself, who is living a secluded life, being now a lesbian and childless. Richard also meets a younger version of himself-injured by Astrabual in the hotel, and eventually get to each other and who can be the most suitable fit for Maria.
In the end, all four protagonists meet in a nearby café, with the camera focusing on them and the nearby cinema. The film theatre, in one sense, is a patient witness of these tribulations, real or fictionalized, and possibly in a more profound sense, the evocation of the reality of characters and their identities undergo. Are Maria and Richard finally happy together after a lengthy feud on that magical night? Are their marriages as sanctified as before, and can they uphold cardinal virtues of marriage and stay loyal and caring to each other? On Magical Night hints the viewers that these questions cannot be comfortably settled, even not by civil code of 212and trouble-free flight to the past and future. We, the audience, like Maria, Richard, and Irene, are sophisticated individuals, and cinema is just a window to portray our nature and how we treat oneself and each other, though quite irrationally.
* On A Magical Night is now available on demand.