The Night Eats the World

Anders Danielsen Lie


The Night Eats the World is a detail-rich zombie procedural ingeniously set in one house, with one main guy as its focus, a couple of “names” doing the sort of walk-on you’d have thought they were above and a lot of extras stumbling about and moaning.

Director Dominique Rocher’s feature debut spends a few minutes at the beginning just introducing us to its main character before it hits us. Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) is at a party he doesn’t want to be at – he’s just there to pick up some belongings after having obviously split acrimoniously with his girlfriend – falls asleep while waiting for her to show him exactly where his bloody tapes are, so he can get out of there, and when he wakes up in the morning the zombie apocalypse has happened. Everyone is either dead or a shuffling monster.

Sam cottons on quickly to what’s happened, going instantly into stealth mode, either because he lives in a slightly parallel Paris where a zombie apocalypse has always been a possibility, or because he’s seen a lot of zombie movies, like the rest of us. Either way he’s soon grabbed a weapon, secured the exits and entrances, done a recce of the house and started assembling the beginnings of a post-zombie-apocalypse life.

A question that always comes up with a zombie movie is what sort of zombies we’re going to get. Whether they can they run (Day of the Dead), think (Army of the Dead), operate as individuals (Return of the Living Dead) or as pack creatures (Train to Busan) seems important, and sometimes is important. But it’s not the nub on which this film turns – the zombies here are a bit of all those things, but Rocher and Pit Agarmen (who wrote the original novel) have a different focus. They’re almost entirely interested in humankind, not zombiedom.

Sam torments the zombies
Sam torments the zombie horde



Waking up in a world gone to shit is the basic setup for Day of the Triffids (later borrowed by 28 Days Later), and a guy holding out against the horde, building a life out of civilisation’s leftovers, that’s I Am Legend (the basis for 1971’s The Omega Man as well as the later Will Smith movie). And at a certain point in The Night Eats the World Sam manages to acquire a zombie pet, which he keeps locked up in one of those iron cage elevators you get in apartment buildings. That’s a borrow from the Argentinian zombie drama What’s Left of Us (aka El Desierto) – which is a hell of a lot better than the miserly 5.2 rating it’s currently getting on IMDB (c’mon people!).

But the film The Night Eats the World most resembles is The Martian. Because this is also a film about a resourceful human being trying to survive in a hostile climate, using his wits, screwing his courage to the sticking point, borrowing and re-purposing whatever is to hand. And it goes into extreme detail about how he does that – staying fit, procuring food, developing surveillance tactics, sorting out the water situation when the mains supply finally goes off, and so on.

It also insists on the innateness and importance of certain aspects of humanity which are often treated as add-ons, luxuries, fripperies – Sam makes music and invents things, he seeks out company in the shape of a cat, he starts developing rituals to make meaning out of his chaotic surroundings.

Barely a zombie movie at all, in fact, though the creatures are always somewhere out there, and if Sam makes a noise – he loves drumming (actor Anders Danielsen Lie is a drummer in real life, as well as a working doctor) – the undead come running.

How did director Rocher get actors of the stature of Denis Lavant (probably best known for Holy Motors) or the Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani (sensational in The Patience Stone) to pitch up for his movie? No idea, but though neither probably did more than a day’s work, there they are, adding a bit of marquee weight to a film that must have had a budget consisting of lunch money.

They’re clearly people of taste. This is a simple but fabulous film.






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© Steve Morrissey 2021







The Patience Stone

Golshifteh Farahani and Hamidreza Javdan in The Patience Stone

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

19 August

 

Afghanistan independence, 1919

On this day in 1919, King Amanullah Khan declared Afghanistan a sovereign and independent country. His country had been at war with the British since May of 1919, in what is now called the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Until it started, the British had been attempting to keep Afghanistan out of the Russian military sphere by paying the Afghans huge amount of money. However, the Afghans had been taking money from the Russians too, playing one side off against the other. The First World War had changed everything. For one thing it had made Afghanistan realise that with the British at war and the Russians busy with a revolution, it could be an independent country in its own right. After the assassination of the pragmatic Habibullah, his successor Amanullah sought to enhance his claim as Amir against Habibullah’s brother, Nasrullah, by invading British India. The British won the conflict, but with twice the number of men lost. In the peace treaty that was signed between them, the British gained assurances that the border between Afghanistan and India, the Durand Line, was settled, and also stopped paying a subsidy to Afghanistan. Afghanistan gained its independence.

 

 

 

The Patience Stone (2012, dir: Atiq Rahimi)

What do women know that men never know? That’s the story behind The Patience Stone, a confessional drama based on the Persian tale about a stone you can confide in, happy it will never tell a soul what it has heard. Here the stone is a man, but he’s comatose and so has no idea that his wife is pouring out her heart and soul to him, partly to pass the time, partly to assuage the fear she feels at being trapped in an Afghani village being torn apart by factional fighting, partly through frustration. At first she doesn’t say much, talks about the passing of the day, trivial jobs that need doing, his condition, their marriage… and once she hits this point it is as if a small dam has been breached and it all starts coming out.
One woman talking to herself, it could easily get boring, except that writer/director Atiq Rahimi builds these soliloquies carefully, so they become increasingly frank, increasingly shocking, and they also start to cohere into the story of the woman’s life: how her sister was given away by her father to pay a gambling debt; how when her husband was away his brothers would secretively watch her bathe and would masturbate. And Rahimi punctuates the soliloquies with two visitations. The first is by the woman’s aunt, a more worldly woman, the full extent of whose worldliness won’t become apparent until much later on in some shock reveals. The second is a group of soldiers who blunder in looking for spoils of war and find a beautiful woman. And she, to protect herself, tells them she is a prostitute, knowing that being unclean in their eyes might save her from gang-rape. It works. But later, guilty and stuttering, the youngest and most handsome of the men returns with money clutched in his sweaty hand, to conduct some business.
In stark contrasts Rahimi reveals what the life of the woman (played by Golshifteh Farahani, her character credited only as “the woman”) is like without the presence of men, and then again with it. No polemic is necessary, all is entirely clear. She is a chattel.
There are more revelations and more twists than you might think possible from what is almost a one-handed, single-person film. But the drama is bolstered by Farahani’s careful paying out of this woman’s character, revealing her nature bit by bit, her luminous eyes and darting voice managing more expression than most actors can manage with everything at their disposal. You can see both why she is a sensation in Persian-speaking parts of the world, if only to audiences – she’s officially a persona non grata in Iran, thanks to films like this. The cinematography by Luc Besson’s DP, Thierry Arbogast, helps too, adding a slick sheen to locations that, to western eyes, are usually associated with dust, dirt and the squalor of the developing world. It confounds expectations, in other words. Which, in many ways, is the whole purpose of the film.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Golshifteh Farahani’s sensitive performance
  • The Moroccan locations (standing in for Afghanistan)
  • Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography
  • A festival and awards favourite

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Patience Stone – Watch it now at Amazon