The Sunlit Night

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Sunlit Night
dir David Wnendt
scr Rebecca Dinerstein Knight
prd Michael Clark, Alex Turtletaub, Gabrielle Nadig, Jenny Slate, Fabian Gasmia
with Jenny Slate, Alex Sharp, Fridtjov Saheim, Gillian Anderson, Zach Galifianakis, David Paymer, Jessica Hecht, Elise Kibler, Justus von Dohnanyi, Olek Krupa, Dan Puck, Luise Nes
release US 17.Jul.20
19/Norway 1h46

anderson galifianakis hecht

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sharp and slate
Set in a spectacular location where darkness never falls, this introspective comedy-drama follows a young painter trying to find her voice. It's a terrific collection of quirky characters juxtaposed with earthy beauty, elegantly directed by David Wnendt from an astute script by Rebecca Dinnerstein Knight, adapting her own novel. Its gently loping pace and continual sideroads may seem a bit random, but it's both funny and surprisingly involving.
After a breakup, aspiring artist Frances (Slate) needs to escape the one-room New York apartment she shares with her bickering parents (Paymer and Hecht) and engaged sister Gaby (Kibler). So she takes an apprenticeship with brusque installation artist Nils (Saheim) on an island in the Norwegian Arctic. The midnight sun attracts summertime tourists to the nearby Viking Museum, including soulful Russian-American Yasha (Sharp), his spiky mother Olyana (Anderson) and American viking obsessive Haldor (Galifianakis). And these people and experiences help her grow up a but before it's time to go home for Gaby's wedding.
Gorgeously shot and accompanied with a terrific song score, the film is packed with intriguing connections and observations. Each person either has a passion in life or is searching for one. Frances struggles with the dull paint-by-numbers aspect of Nils' barn-painting project, but of course this offers her time to find some clarity, pushing her to reach out in offbeat ways to the people she meets. She finds particular resonance with Yasha, who came here to give his mentor father the viking funeral he'd always wanted.

While the characters all have idiosyncrasies, they're cleverly underplayed by the actors to bring out surprisingly complex thoughts and feelings. Frances' inner-monolog voiceover offers witty glimpses into her journey, and she's sharply played by Slate as a young woman who is open to experiences but knows her limits. Her connection with the superb Saheim's tetchy Nils plays out with intriguing angles, while the budding relationship with the Sharp's reticent Yasha is quietly engaging.

There are a few cheesy touches in the story, as well as some convenient plot points. But everything unfolds with such soulfulness that it can't help but get under the skin. Each of these people is trying to set a course through his or her life, and spending time in this picturesque place on the top of the world might provide a hint of perspective. The film's final scenes are clever and punchy, offering an insightful exploration of a simple theme: remember who you are.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 14.Jul.20

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