A small independent film made with just three actors in a single set but making use of considered film making from director Blair Hayes, strong lighting and some well written dialogue from writer and actor Andrew C. Fisher, that's what Night Music delivers and it does so well.
We are introduced to the characters with little warning or back story, like real life they just appear and carry on with their lives. None of the dialogue feels as though it's being delivered us in order to explain anything, and like so many good character based films their stories evolve through their conversations and actions, in fact we feel our understanding developing with the lead character.
Saying that though, on a second viewing, which is rare for me these days, I did catch a glimmer of understanding in the lead before we got there ourselves, and that's an example of one of the reasons I enjoyed this film so much, the subtlety and the nuances of the characters as they are written and performed and the fact that I found more in it and could enjoy it a second time.
There are many moments where even the dialogue is held back in favour of an actor delivering an expression or the director allowing the camera time to watch the character as the soundtrack plays in the background and our actors just deliver their characters. It works well and I enjoyed the slower, more deliberate pace of these scenes. It feels very much like a stage play for those reasons and even the pauses in the film feel punctuated in this way, and that's very much a strength of the film.
During the first half of the film and on the first viewing I sometimes found I wasn't taking to the two actors, the first Andrew C. Fisher for his portrayal of Jon and his inability to make a choice or deliver an action, and Guy Birtwhistle for his portrayal of Leo who at times was grating and a little difficult to connect to. However their characters do develop and their character traits and motivations are explained by the latter stages of the story. While that's quite a risk to take for a film at the beginning, it can really pay off later in the film when the story develops and where the story is good and delivered well, and here it is. You want the audience to feel for the characters, and I like to think I was feeling the right things for each of them at the right stages of the story.
On a second viewing I think I understood these feelings much more than I did the first time, and this is one of the reasons that I enjoyed the second viewing so well, I had a better understanding of the characters and it felt as though it offered something different second time around.
Boti Bliss played her character well too and there was a lot of scope for her to get it wrong, overplay the scenes where she is uncertain, breaking down, or taking control, and she would stand out against the rest of the film. Again it's testament to the script for the strong role she is given to deliver, and a testament to her for the way she handles the character.
She has some very strong scenes where the camera focuses on her alone and without dialogue you feel some of what the character is going through. I enjoyed the mystery of her character, the uncertainty about what she's doing and what is transpiring between her and the lead, and above all the uncertainty in the story itself.
That uncertainty is another strength of the film. We begin being uncertain about everything, about the characters and their relationships, and what the story is really about. From the first few moments you do feel as though the visiting friend is carrying something more with him, something you can see reflected in the performance of both Birtwhistle and Fisher, the man of the household. It builds on this uncertainty and develops it, and before long you begin to see the visitor is carrying some anger and resentment which slowly develops, transforming into something darker and revealing the story behind his appearance.
The ending delivers a strong and interesting conclusion for the characters and while you might be thinking its going one way, it does manage to deliver an interesting turn in keeping with the real life feel of the story. There's no over explanation of the story or the choices that the characters make, they just do, because that's what people do, and the more I thought about that the more I appreciated the ending. It did take a second viewing and some additional thought, but the old Filmstalker adage applies, a film needs to make you think about it after it ends and Night Music definitely does that.
Some may say that the main character choices were a little odd and could have done with some more explanation, but I like that as it adds to the play like feel. Perhaps there are a few places where I might have liked more direction on the main character, his decisions and where they came from, and I think that could fair criticism; however it's a slight issue and one that doesn't cloud the rest of the film.
I really enjoyed the feel of Night Music where it concentrates on dialogue and performances, delivering as much in the quiet pauses as it does in the dialogue. The film carries a very good script which does feel like a play with the concentration on dialogue, performance and direction much more than other films.
Recently I saw Kenneth Branagh's film version of Sleuth and I feel that in some places this is a more successful play in a film than that was. Of course I'm not going to claim the performances were better, but they were very good and delivered more than just their lines adding a good physical performance too.
Night Music also looks good. It doesn't deliver much in the way of locations but they do look stylish and there's a fair effort been put into the cinematography and design which all shows through and adds to overall quality.
For those who like a little thought to their films and feel a little spoon fed by the Hollywood drama, this film delivers something different and something that will have you thinking about the characters after the film has finished. It did for me.