Credit: Quinzaine des Cinéastes
by Zachary Goldkind Featured Film

Eat the Night — Jonathan Vinel & Caroline Poggi [Cannes ’24 Review]

May 27, 2024

Caroline Poggi & Jonathan Vinel are a contemporary duo whose work rebukes and inquires into the reactionary, philosophical response to an accelerated technological development, rendering posthumanist sympathies that in themselves are reflexive and articulate of technocratic fears. They are artists who seek to instigate the nu-materiality of digital unreality, the manners in which our character dramas are slowly transposing themselves onto an awoken artifice: no longer are the borders of this media finite, no longer can they totally uphold the insular logics they were designed with. The classical narrativity of cinema has now entered into the playing field; an almost conservative bend on these transgressive itineraries for humanist inspection.

Eat the Night is the second feature film from the directorial duo, and it can be interpreted as forwardly regressive in the context their art has evolved within, their experimentation with the traditional machinations of narrative and composition/montage being more or less shouldered to imagine the erasure of a line that creates a distinction between the flesh and the pixel. In this latest, conventional formal tools are employed, which can belie the vigor of their work, yet it’s also offset with a dedication to earnestness, where the uncanny and the sentimental find a junction in the imaging of the actors’ faces into the focal video game, designed specially for the film. It’s a work that walks atop problematized territory, seeking to upset the passive role that race as a social configuration in proximity to whiteness often takes in the process of negotiating DEI identity politics, with a concluding trio of medium close-ups confounding the positions of our primary characters and providing key insight into the utilization of form as a method of thematic pronouncement.

Eat the Night is about the love between three people: Pablo (Théo Cholbi), Apolline (Lila Guneau), and Night (Erwan Kepoa Falé). Pablo and Apolline are siblings, their relationship affirmed through their proxy companionship within Darknoon, an open-world RPG. Night is a stranger who Pablo falls for and invites into his life and profession: dealing with and outmaneuvering a rival gang. The trajectory of their fates once Darknoon announces the shutdown of its servers is telegraphed, but the organization of these downfalls — be it emotional, bodily, or social — offers the field upon which the filmmakers play out their own Shakespearean tragedy. The largest issue in Eat the Night is the broadness engineered to conceive of a philosophy which merges planes, specifically pointed when Pablo and Night are utilized as expositional vessels for their experiences in moments when their bodies cannot wield that expression. Apolline, then, is provided the only sincere fluidity, herself being the youngest of the trio and the most enveloped in the game, and her perspective is integral to recognizing how identity exists between these material and ephemeral spheres. Pablo, in jest, suggests at one point that he’d hook up with his own Darknoon avatar, sending his sister into a kind of reticence, where suddenly the image of her brother — which he made for himself — becomes crudely external, divorced from the love they’ve shared through the game. In response, she unpacks the hidden costume of her avatar, donning it, returning to herself, seeking a familiarity she had been so suddenly shunted from. It’s a scene that speaks toward the erasure of the self, a romantic estrangement that Poggi and Vinel seek out, which has been key to their thematic articulations in the past.

But to return to the concluding match cuts — Pablo, Apolline, and Night all static in their respective, forlorn conditions — we begin to unpack an uncomfortable inarticulateness regarding race that the film lingers through. Night is incontrovertibly locked into a circumstance, come the end, which entirely negates his capacity to exist in either world, in opposition to the meditative insecurity of Pablo and Apolline. Night, a Black man, becomes the only one who gives himself over, from a place that was never delineated, and loses everything because of it. That the final of the three aforementioned shots is of him perhaps suggests a reflexivity to the tragedy here, his kindness being a major focus throughout the film, leading to a cruel finality. But the brisk coda which follows suggests a dual rejoinder: the frontier has been shattered, the separation between worlds gone, death’s reek permeating. These three people have certainly lost themselves, but it’s affirmed that only Night will never be the same. The title then returns to us, Eat the Night, as perhaps a gesture to the troubled acts of love represented here being reflective of racist ignorance/violence that the siblings partake in, leaving room for scrutiny and criticality in confronting their emotional turmoil and the parasite it might be. Night, after all, also finds grace in Darknoon, though that grace is likewise founded upon a lie, a lie the film seems to invite us to consider and reconsider: to recognize what humanity might mean — its prejudices and subconsciousness — as it seeks new emotional form outside of the body and its prescribed codes.

Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2024 — Dispatch 3.