by Allan Fish
(Brazil 1964 93m) not on DVD
Aka. The Empty Nigh
One night in Rio
p Nelson Gaspari, Walter Hugo Khouri d/w Walter Hugo Khouri ph Rudolf Icsey ed Mauro Alice m Rogerio Duprat art Pierino Massenzi
Norma Bengell (Mara), Odete Lara (Regina), Mario Benvenuti (Luisinho), Gabriele Tinti (Nelson), Lisa Negri (Nelson’s lover), Marisa Woodward (girl in club), Célia Watanabe (Japanese waitress),
Though considered one of the key films in the cinema novo moment in its native Brazil, Noite Vazia has never been accorded the same status on an international level. There are probably other reasons and yet is it a coincidence that, of the seminal works of that same movement which made Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Ruy Guerra and Anselmo Duarte figures on the world stage, Walter Hugo Khouri’s film seems very much the odd one out. The cinema novo movement owed its debts to Italian neo-realism and the art-house cinema of the past. Khouri’s film seems indebted not to the past but to the Italian cinema of the early 1960s, the intellectual masterpieces of Fellini, Zurlini, Visconti and, especially, Antonioni.
As the title suggests, it’s set over the course of just one night, from around 8pm until dawn the next morning. It follows two married men out on the pull, Luisinho and Nelson. Luisinho is married with a little boy and is clearly the most callous of the two. Nelson has a lover who he has, in the past, been extremely possessive of, but now seems distant towards. They go to various clubs. In one a girl comes up to them, but they’re not interested in comforting her. Finally they end up in a Japanese establishment and there they meet an acquaintance who has just walked in with a brunette and a blonde. When said acquaintance then proceeds to just fall asleep, either through the effects of drink or, as is hinted, narcolepsy, the girls agree to hook up with Luisinho and Nelson. All four go back to an apartment which Luisinho has access to. They waste little time in getting down to it, the blonde Regina picking Nelson, leaving Luisinho with Mara. It becomes clear Luisinho wanted Regina and the pair then swap partners, but Nelson is not in the mood for continuing with Mara.
What follows into the early hours is a sort of pretence to avoid boredom. Nelson clearly has an attraction for Mara, but is unwilling to say as much. Luisinho sees the girls as just whores; indeed, seeing any woman who isn’t his family as a whore. What proves the turning point of the night occurs when Luisinho suggests, after watching a couple of dodgy, unerotic stag films, that Mara and Regina perform a lesbian sex-show for the two men. Regina agrees, but Mara is repulsed by the idea.
Throughout the film, despite the clearly sexually orientated plot, it’s remarkably chaste as one may expect in 1964, but then another catalyst occurs, a thunderstorm, releasing the previously close atmosphere to such an extent that Mara wanders topless onto the balcony, in full view of the camera, cleansing herself under the rain. For those who saw Bengell in The Unscrupulous Ones the nudity isn’t surprising, but it’s nudity of a psychological not sexual kind. In comparison, we only get hints of flashes from Lara.
With the possible exception of Yoshida’s later Farewell to the Summer Light, this may well be the most Antonioni-like film ever made, superbly directed by Khouri. The men are to all intents and purposes lightweights, but that’s deliberate; they’re meant to be tiresome, shallow and impenetrable. The women on the other hand are like fire and ice, sometimes both. Lara is the definitive voluptuous blonde amazon. Bengell is more timid, and certainly a nicer character. Furthermore, they clearly represent Antonioni’s women – Lara recalls Vitti in L’Avventura, Bengell Moreau in La Notte. The film even ends like La Notte, the quartet emerging onto empty streets, liable to repeat the night with different partners 24 hours later. And watch the opening credits, too, with those disfigured statues; like the credits to Spartacus (even the font is uncannily similar).