In All These Sleepless Nights, Michal Marczak brings Slacker into the 21st century.
Of course instead of wandering the streets of Austin, Marczak’s camera takes to the streets of Warsaw. But like Linklater’s debut, it too occupies the penumbral space between documentary and improvised drama. And like Linklater’s portrait of Austin at a specific time, Sleepless Nights presents an unvarnished view of Polish youth. Kryzszstof Baginski and his friends, the main subjects if we are to call them something, feel like real people. And that might be because they are, Kryzszstof relegated to essentially playing himself.
In the opening voice over Kryzszstof breaks down the events of our life into digestible bits of time. 51 days of trying to figure out what to wear. 7 months of sex. 3 days of fireworks. 700 days of waiting around and hoping for something to happen.
400 days of pretending to be somebody you’re not.
His existence is based in moments. Marczak’s camera follows its subjects from one party to the next. A wandering, wrestles camera encircles Kryzszstof before pulling away, simultaneously attracted and repulsed by a youth culture whose main hobby seems to be getting fucked up and listening to techno. It’s editing frequently cuts from one moment to the next with abandon, as though Kryzszstof’s inebriation has spilled over into the film itself, scenes becoming as porous as his memory.
Yet far from being another youth centered movie whose beautiful production belies an empty core, Marczak’s style becomes central to the portrait of Warsaw he is painting. The floating shots and abrupt cuts nail the tempo of adolescence. They’ll cut on a shoulder turning into two people smoking cigs in the rain. How did they get there? Does it matter? On those nights where you wander from party to party or show to show, the moments in between get lost. Time, Sleepless Nights suggests, for these kids is disposable. Of course until isn’t.
The result is a gorgeous examination of millennial ennui. The film opens with a hopeful promise. Fireworks exploded over Warsaw as Joe Meek’s “I Hear A New World” plays in the background. Unfortunately, since 1960 when that the song was released, that new world was never realized.
Nobody in the film seems to have a job. When we meet Kryzszstof he’s sharing a one bedroom apartment with his friend Michal. It’s sparsely furnished. They sleep in the same bed. People drop in to their lives and then out. Relationships begin and end over a couple scenes. Nothing, in this portrait of Warsaw, is permanent.
We even realize the film’s title might literal as the sun is only glimpsed as it rises and sets, Warsaw shrouded in constant gloom. Of course the fear with these kinds of movies is that sooner or later all of this will collapse into nostalgic reverie. And yet somehow that moment never comes, Marczak instead presenting Kryzszstof as a young man less eager to escape the present than merely worried that this period of his life will go to waste, that all these moments will slip between his fingers before he has time to figure out what they might all mean.
And while the people he encounters might speak in broad platitudes— “This doesn’t feel like real life. It’s all a game,” or “Our biggest dreams aren’t about people, they’re about going towards something”— none of it comes across as cloying. It all feels too real for that, especially when we move from the confines of an apartment or club to open parks and beaches, the camera and framing emphasizing how small these people are compared to the rest of the world.
And ultimately, like Slacker, All These Sleepless Nights ends on a hopeful note. Our lives may not lead where we think or hope, Marczak suggests, but as we Kryzszstof dancing in the middle of the street, early morning traffic parting around him, there’s a lingering sense that maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright.
The film will open theatrically on Friday, April 14 at New York’s IFC Center as well as in theaters April 7 in Los Angeles and San Francisco.