Credit: Audrey Lam/Prismatic Ground
by Joshua Peinado Featured Film

Us and the Night — Audrey Lam [Prismatic Ground ’24 Review]

May 14, 2024

Audrey Lam’s Us and the Night is a film of patterns — in its geography, which functions as both an exploration of a library and the language which constructs its inner labyrinths. Lam shot and edited the film over the course of ten years at a library she used to work at. The 16mm film lends a tactility to the project, and its visual artifacts only further reinforce its connection to the stacks of well-worn books which form its spine. Despite featuring a relatively straightforward story of two student library workers, the film remains startlingly ethereal for most of its runtime. The two performers, Umi Ishihara and Xiao Deng, play some version of themselves — complete with the same names, which are frequently used as narrative devices. Umi says to Xiao her name represents a sentence: you am I, I am you. She also narrates the film, introduced to the audience as someone for whom the university library means something more. She finds connections between words like university and universe, the isles of the books and the aisles of the library, the colors of the books and the nature of their content (well-read red books, etc).

The concrete, wood, and metal structures of the library make for a landscape that fascinates Lam’s camera — often finding its visual language in the patterns of lines which make up the neatly arranged blocks of lights on the ceilings, the striped walls with giant blocky windows, or the lines and lines of shelves which contain the heart of the film. Lam effectively balances the small scope of a library with the enormity of the worlds contained within it, and reveals in their contradictions a fulfillment of the promise of each. Umi and Xiao’s relationship develops over the film as a “spell” is cast over the two’s relationship to bind them together. Xiao leaves Umi notes in books (which are themselves filled with musical notes). If it’s not clear yet, Lam has a thing for homophones and puns. The film has proved to be a darling of Prismatic Ground 2024, and for good reason. Umi proves to be a delightful presence to spend an hour with, and the love story which builds over the course of the 60 minutes plays out with all the mystery and magic of any Rivette film. Xiao has a secret which won’t be revealed to Umi until she turns 21, which Umi finds only when she turns to page 21 in a book. The promised letter from Xiao to Umi, which the film has been building to, is a revelation both intimate and metaphysical, much like the library to which Us and the Night belongs.