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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

An Artist’s Rendezvous with a Badman

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“Nocturne” (at Film Forum through Oct. 17) drenches itself in melodrama, and that melodrama is as quiet as something left standing in a dim room, a candle fluttering dryly on a window sill.

But unlike “Mademoiselle Chambon,” the recent, trashy French drama about an aging model who embarks on a graphic affair with a car salesman that triggered a few whispered, polite whispers, “Nocturne” keeps dropping hints that all is not well.

It starts quietly: nothing much happens in the world of middle-aged French men of a certain class. They come and go; they barely see their children, which is how most of us feel all the time.

Then, one night, we come upon the images of a man prancing, serenely, in the rain while bathing. There follows a gloriously glorious montage of men folding linen sheets, one of them resting his forehead between the legs of another. Then there is a snazzy performance by an unseen man brandishing a gun on a rooftop in which two men look just terribly uncomfortable. We are told, in unobtrusive, understated language, that this is no ordinary man.

Meanwhile, late at night, three other men are falling over each other to gain entrance to a brothel. The director, Guillaume Nicloux, does a delicate balancing act here: show that all is not well with these men, but never be so bleak that it suggests that all men are bad. In addition, they are drawn with a naturalness and freedom that would suggest excitement rather than sadness.

This playfulness, when it accompanies an already melodramatic setting, is wonderful. But so is the tragedy the film eventually shifts toward — a drama that has nothing to do with sexual exploitation or criminality, but rather, a lingering fear that all is not well with these men.

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