If you’ve heard anything about Michal Marczak’s All These Sleepless Nights as it’s traveled the film-festival circuit in the past year or so, you’ve most likely heard about the nature of its creation. Taking the hybrid docu-fiction method he explored in his previous features At the Edge of Russia and Fuck for Forest to its limits, Marczak recruited a trio of Polish 20-somethings to act out versions of themselves as they roved their way around the Warsaw party scene, the director’s camera following them in real life. Instead of capturing directly recorded sound, however, Marczak re-created the film’s soundtrack afterward, having the film’s main subjects re-record their dialogue and even adding bits of ambient sound that weren’t necessarily present in the original shoots. Marczak, it appears, is pushing even further than Werner Herzog or, more recently, Robert Greene (he of Actress and Kate Plays Christine) when it comes to blurring the line between constructed fiction and documentary reality. Perhaps he doesn’t even see a line in the first place.
The aesthetic and philosophical implications of its making are fascinating to contemplate, to be sure. Then, though, there is the film itself, which is alternately hypnotic and monotonous. Certainly, the narrative that peeks through its many scenes of people partying, hooking up, drinking and doing drugs, and just generally being hedonistic is remarkably thin. It’s little more than a love triangle between its three central figures, as one of them, Kryzysztof Bagi?ski, carries on an affair with Eva Lebuef, the ex-girlfriend of Krzysztof’s friend, Michal Huszcza. And those three people don’t seem to have much in the way of personalities to make them especially memorable. There’s only so much that that ol’ self-reflexive gambit of raising questions about just how true the on-screen incarnations of people are to their real selves (ultimately a pointless question, Marczak would probably argue) can do to cover for frankly uninteresting subjects in the first place.
Perhaps the best way to approach All These Sleepless Nights, then, is not as documentary or even as drama, but as an abstract feature-length snapshot of youth in transition from the devil-may-care aimlessness of adolescence, to the initial agonized stirrings of adulthood. In this light, Marczak’s film turns out to have a completely coincidental yet nevertheless fitting companion piece in theaters right now: Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, which chronicles a similar phase in young-adulthood through a love triangle of its own, albeit set in the gritty indie-music scene of Austin, Texas, rather than in the big-city glamour of Warsaw, Poland.
But the unexpected kinship between the two films doesn’t just lie in its grand subject or in its barely-there narrative. All These Sleepless Nights, it turns out, is remarkably Malick-like in style as well. Granted, Marczak’s own editing rhythms are less restless than Malick’s, and his camera, though often moving, doesn’t swirl around people as Malick’s tends to do around his actors. And of course, Malick has no interest in challenging documentary norms the way Marczak does (though, like the Polish filmmaker, Malick did film quite a bit of the footage in Song to Song during real live-music performances in Austin). And yet, there’s a genuinely Malickian quality to the way Marczak builds his film out of fragments, impressions, sensations, moments seemingly recalled from some collective unconscious. Even the lack of dimensionality of his people could be seen as Malick-like: Marczak seems less interested in his subjects as people than in capturing their youthful energy and confusion.
But the film’s intoxicatingly dreamy vibe is fully its own. The Warsaw Marczak—who shot all of the footage himself—captures in All These Sleepless Nights is a neon-colored playground in which its characters are free to have fun, wander around, get lost, and try to find each other and themselves. It doesn’t matter in the end if any of it is “real” in a conventional sense. Werner Herzog famously talked about how he aimed to create documentaries that went beyond mere facts in order to capture a deeper “ecstatic truth.” The details of Marczak’s film—the specific people and events—may not impose themselves in the memory, but its nostalgia-tinged evocation of a pivotal time in a young adult’s development verges on the poetic, which is more than can be said for most standard documentaries.
Director: Michal Marczak
Writer: Michal Marczak
Starring: Kryzysztof Bagi?ski, Michal Huszcza, Eva Lebuef
Release Date: April 7, 2017 (LA/SF); April 14, 2017 (NY)
Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and the Village Voice. He is also Deputy Editor of Movie Mezzanine. When he’s not watching movies and writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art, and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.