Credit: FIDMarseille
by Zach Lewis Featured Film

Lazaro at Night — Nicolás Pereda [FIDMarseille ’24 Review]

July 10, 2024

Medium-length features; a small but consistent troupe of actors in every picture; every scene just another conversation; little-to-no camera movement; and beguiling, inventive narrative structures that make otherwise simple movies anything but — these are the artistic hallmarks that have granted director Hong Sang-soo a well-deserved cult following. But all of those characteristics also describe the oeuvre of lesser-known Nicolás Pereda, who, if it can be believed, makes even quieter, slower works than Hong. The comparisons stop there; Pereda doesn’t swap out Hong’s soju for Mexican cervezas or anything else that would lead one to imagine Pereda fully lifting or even making reference to Hong’s style. The pleasures of a Pereda film are distinct, and his latest film is the furthest he’s explored his own style.

Lazaro at Night is, at first, about a small community of artists in Mexico City navigating the jealousies and tensions that always come with an insular scene. Like previous Pereda films, the characters here play versions of themselves using their own names — even Lázaro, whom Pereda-heads would recognize as Gabino Rodriguez, emphasizes that he’s changed his name, and, sure enough, the actor is credited as “Lázaro G. Rodriguez” — to emphasize naturalistic, perhaps autobiographical, acting. Here, they play three artists who know each other from a writing workshop long ago; Lázaro and Francisco (Francisco Barreiro) compete for Luisa’s (Luisa Pardo) romantic attention while all three simultaneously audition for a role in a small movie. Lest that sound dramatic, all three are unfazed by their romantic trysts, and the auditions are simply pleasant conversations while the director “observes them” for the part — likely Pereda poking fun at himself. Then, the Peredian shift arrives when the trio begins to reminisce about their workshop teacher, and the film jumps into an extended montage sequence of the more boring parts of their lives in an apartment building. Then, an even more radical shift happens, as the movie becomes an adaptation of the story Luisa wrote in the workshop. We never do find out if they get their parts.

There’s a subtle humor at work — more Martín Rejtman than Roy Andersson — that elevates the material above the legions of minimalist dramas that plague film festivals every year. Pereda immediately paints Lázaro as an asshole, but an absurdist asshole, one who confidently tells that director that he should be paying actors to audition and demands to pay for coffee with one of his poems. To be an asshole in a normal way, such as yelling at Luisa for sleeping with Francisco, simply would never occur to him. Meanwhile, Lázaro’s mother chides all three of them despite their efforts to be polite at dinner, and the director’s relaxed audition “method” leads to the most tense scene in the film. Through these burlesques, Pereda teases the sort of arts communities that take their insular problems so seriously.

Even the final section of the film, Luisa’s retelling of the story of Aladdin, acts as a long joke: instead of wishing for anything extravagant or otherworldly, Aladdin simply wishes for food every time. Pereda admits that this sequence was inspired by César Aira’s lecture about the tension inherent in magical realism; that something so sacred could be used for such utilitarian ends feels sacrilegious, even among the most secular readers. Lazaro at Night, which follows Pereda’s other works that highlight the empyrean within the everyday, doesn’t act confined within the tradition of magical realism, but uses it to tell a story even better: a cosmic joke.

Published as part of FIDMarseille 2024 — Dispatch 3.