What if you fell in love with a sleepwalker? That’s ostensibly the premise of Nocturne, an independent Canadian film that’s been playing the festival circuit for several years. Problem is, that premise is only the focus for about the first twenty minutes or so of this picture. The film then careens into various genres, none of which ever gel with the opening title card declaring: “Once upon a time…” For what is ostensibly an urban fairytale, this film is maddeningly scattershot: sometimes gorgeous and evocative, sometimes painfully amateurish.
The first third of Nocturne is pretty great stuff. Cindy (Mary Krohnert) is an isolated child-author who is now relegated to the life of a corporate drone. After noticing the odd behavior of a co-worker, Armen (Knickoy Robinson), Cindy begins following him into the night on his odd misadventures throughout the city. He walks the streets like a zombie: drooling, mumbling incoherently mindlessly consuming anything he can get his hands on. Cindy becomes infatuated with him and begins accompanying him every night.
Then, out of nowhere, the movie drops this tone entirely. The rest of Nocturne becomes an exercise in complete narrative and tonal confusion, alternating between a crime film, a family drama, a thriller and a sentimental romance. None of these movies work or are anywhere near as engaging as what came before. The script is stupefying expositional in the second half, numbing you to whatever the characters’ motivations are. Dramatic emphasis is thrown onto very odd moments, often leaving the camera lingering on scenarios where nothing is happening but the dramatic music is swelling as if something is. No joke, one of the climactic scenes is literally a character trying different pin-codes on an ATM. It’s about as cinematic as it sounds.
This lack of tonal consistency really stings because there is some fine acting on display here. Krohnert and Robinson are clearly good actors that are being shortchanged by several factors. This is a movie that feels like a first draft pass in the edit. The dialogue scenes are especially painful whenever the camera sits in shot-reverse-shot. There is a lack of rhythm to these scenes and they drag the movie to a halt. If you were to add up the dead air in this edit, you could likely cut out almost a half hour of footage.
Nocturne is a hard movie to recommend. It’s an indie film with more passionate craft than you’d expect, but that craft is only visible in brief moments. It’s like watching a student film get briefly interrupted by an accomplished cinematographer, pulling the camera to something more interesting. I wanted to stay in the moments when this film embraced its surreal potential, but it ultimately never let me.