Let’s talk about life!
In 2016, Polish filmmaker, Michal Marczak unveiled his experimental piece “All These Sleepless Nights,” which I recently discovered and watched. It opened in Sundance Film Festival where Marczak received the directing prize for World Cinema Documentary. This is his third film as a director and his first for Sundance, which makes it all the more impressive. However, what is truly magnificent about this movie is that it is not entirely nonfiction. Upon first sitting, you’ll notice that the narrative itself plays like a plotless drama. It has the tone of an experimental film or as IndieWire puts it, “The best movie Terrence Malick never made.” This does not necessarily mean that the movie is bad, it is actually quite the opposite.
All These Sleepless Nights opens with Krzysztof contemplating about life. He appears to be in his late twenties, living in an apartment way above his price range. As fireworks begin to light up in front of his eyes, he delivers one of the most weirdly poetic mathematical calculations in movie history.
“I wonder whose life they got the data from. For example boredom… two years, that’s over seven hundred days of waiting around and hoping for something to happen. Four hundred days of pretending to be someone you’re not. Then another four months regretting the decisions you’ve made.”
This monologue, delivered in Polish just like the other dialogues, continues with a deep look into what appears as a flashback of his latest break up. While this becomes a stand out premise in Krzysztof’s story, it is not the main idea of the movie.
The main idea of this docufiction explores Krzysztof’s journey as he wanders around the city of Warsaw. Around these streets, we are introduced to Michal, his flat mate who seems to have maintained a long-term friendship with him. Their personal bond plays out as if they are actual brothers, with each of them always trying to help out one another in navigating life. Then, we are introduced to Eva. She is Michal’s ex girlfriend who exudes a serious on-again-off-again vibe to him. Krzysztof spends the night with Eva and we are treated to visual hints of him possibly falling in love with this woman. However, tension later arises as Michal eventually has trouble accepting this and Krzysztof becomes more and more unsure of his state in the relationship. While the execution leaves viewers confused at first, it actually gives out a more intimate understanding of how Krzysztof is: he can’t make up his mind because he hasn’t figured out life yet.
Helping Krzysztof navigate his journey is the dance parties he go to. The movie does an excellent job in humanizing them. Instead of filming glamorous shots of over-the-top disco lights with lyric-less electronic music, the movie treats the dance parties as a supporting plot device. In the very first dance party sequence, we see Krzysztof trying to sort things out with his ex-girlfriend, Monika. We are used to seeing the cliché, “I’m sorry,” explanations, but Krzysztof just stands there out of confusion, delivering “I really don’t know,” as he tries to listen to Monika. His simple words leave two possible interpretations for the viewers. Explicitly, the context of what he says gives viewers a clue of how his relationships don’t always end up with him getting a clear understanding of what went wrong. Implicitly, the context of how he says it implicates that, not only does he not understand himself in a relationship, he may not understand himself as an individual. Combined with an observation of his awkward posture, we could also see that he’s not even present at the dance party as he discusses his relationship. He is there, but he is not entirely there.
The dance parties become more and more apparent as a pseudo representation of Krzysztof’s mind. There is a dance party after the first hour of the movie ends which complements the unspoken dialogue of the narrator very well. The EDM song which plays a repeated vocal of, “I can’t do without you,” mixed with yet another poetic mathematical calculation.
“Ten thousand cigarettes. So many breaths so sharply drawn in ten thousand cigarettes, three hundred days up in smoke. A thousand unfiltered moments, your voice among a hundred others, one mistake for every hundred breaths… Every ten thousand cigarettes.”
Even when he is not narrating, we can see him shining through his own physical movement in the dance parties. When he’s dancing with people, his moves are limited. When he’s dancing alone in a crowded room full of people, he’s the most free. We see how expressive he is with his thoughts, liberated. For a moment there, we forget about his existential crisis. We see him at the moment, truly being present even if he hasn’t quite understood life.
For this movie, the only flaw is that the editing could have been improved, amplified to give a more nuanced experiment. Nonetheless, it is still an enjoyable viewing for audiences who are looking to be immersed in stripped down dance parties. It offers escapism while trying to make us contemplate on how we should approach our journey into livelihood. It is not always smooth and it’s complicated. We cannot truly find out who we are in a short span of time. Even when the movie gives some sort of closure on what Krzysztof wants to do in life, he still wonders…
“Maybe it’s going to be my new role in life?”