In more than just superficial terms, All These Sleepless Nights makes a perfect double-feature companion with Terrence Malick’s Song to Song. Both films feature a roving camera that swims freely around groups of beautiful bodies, and have actors playing versions of themselves as they move self-consciously in the language of interpretive dance. Love affairs burn hot and flicker briefly as one party leads into the next, and an air of ambivalent hedonism becomes pervasive. The characters in these films seem simultaneously to be thinking “This is everything” and “Is this all there is?”
If All These Sleepless Nights carries the whiff of a familiar philosophical exercise, with its constant dialectic of ecstasy and ennui, it finds a unique vitality in its densely constructed environment. Director Michal Marczak shot the film, a sort of hybrid documentary-fiction, on a camera that’s essentially part Steadicam and part gyroscope: Like his protagonist Krzysztof (Krzysztof Baginski), Marczak’s rig dances with unpredictable rhythms, fluidly bobbing and drifting through a series of happenings over the course of a year in Warsaw. The soundtrack flows like an endless DJ set, and it, along with all of the dialogue, was re-recorded and assembled in post-production. Whether individual scenes depict moments of heightened drama or aimless lollygagging, every moment in the film feels at once hazy and immediate, a series of unforgettable nights that can’t help but blur together as they pile up.
Director Michal Marczak’s film finds a unique vitality in its densely constructed environment.
The film is only occasionally tethered to plot, particularly after Krzysztof opts to start a relationship with Eva (Eva Lebuef), the ex-girlfriend of his roommate and best friend, Michal (Michal Huszcza). The camera expressively suggests the tension latent in this arrangement, organizing the trio in compositions that set Michal behind the budding couple, but Marczak doesn’t dwell on issues of sex and betrayal. Quick fades to black, eye-blinks reminiscent of the scene transitions in Gaspar Noe’s Love, underscore the sense that All These Sleepless Nights is, despite its urgency, filtered through memory and nostalgia. Where early scenes conjure the bliss of being young and impossibly attractive, the film’s latter portions cast a subtly critical eye on Krzysztof’s heedless drug use and his increasing sense of isolation and disillusion.
In the meantime, Krzysztof also begins to view his undiluted vibrancy as its own sort of posturing, an effort “to create a more spectacular version of yourself.” Marczak and co-screenwriter Katarzyna Szczerba’s script sometimes seems overeager to define its drifters (“I feel like I’m drowning in the present,” Krzysztof says at one point), but these bits of poetic self-scrutiny also serve to underscore the idealized nature of these young-adult reveries. A similar exaggeration was at play in Marczak’s terrific 2010 debut, At the Edge of Russia, which placed a teenage military conscript on a base in Siberia with a squad of grizzled, perpetually soused lifers. The director has a knack for finding and lingering in the essence of his archetypal subjects.
All These Sleepless Nights comes to be defined by its gorgeous party scenes, often set outside mammoth historic buildings and captured in natural, tungsten-hued light as night gives way to dawn. These tableaus can’t help but comment on Poland’s transition from communism to a more Westernized European society, but politics are noticeably outside of the purview of Marczak’s characters. Their stomping grounds are devoid of people over the age of 30, as well as any discussions about work or money. If the film often seems too rambling or limited in its concern for its exclusively privileged partygoers, its narrow scope nurtures a uniquely immersive and tactile environment. All These Sleepless Nights exists in a perpetual moment, but it’s always aware that moment will have to come to an end someday.