The Night of All Nights
(Germany, 96 minutes)
Dir: Yasemin Samdereli
Programme: Special Presentations. (International Premier)
Four couples around the world open up about their relationships, which have all lasted, remarkably, longer than fifty years. In When Harry Met Sally -style interviews, each pair reflects on life before and beyond the moments that brought them together, and how they’ve grown as partners. Yasemin Samdereli’s The Night of All Nights manages to do something delightful: it becomes a rom-com documentary.
Norman and Bill are a gay American couple who, despite their devotion, have only recently been allowed to get married. Kamala and Hampana are an inter-caste Indian couple, who fought against social restrictions to be together. Shigeko and Isao are a Japanese couple whose marriage was arranged, and not always happy. Hildegarde and Heinz are a German couple — and that’s it. This does become a bit of an issue: with three other fascinating partnerships, the “normal” one feels dull. Lacking the intrigue and the charisma of the others, it feels that they are distracting from what is more interesting.
Despite this misstep, The Night of All Nights more than makes up for it with the diverse cast it focuses on. We are given unique perspectives on relationships, and we encounter the hardships that are fought against to foster love and happiness. There are the big issues (the legal, the political) as well as the small. Watching how two people, sometimes with incredibly different lifestyles, personalities, and values, can come together in a near-perfect union, becomes part of the documentary’s charm. With humour rather than sentimentality, The Night of All Nights is able to sell its almost too-upbeat content.
This lack of sentimentality lends itself very well to Shigeko and Isao’s arranged marriage. With them, we see a couple who aren’t madly in love. Struggling to forge a relationship, they figured out how to work together later in life, their marriage held together only by the stigma of divorce, and Shigeko’s fear of single-motherhood. The documentary is lighthearted, but does not neglect to contemplate alternate narratives to romance, never turning the one story that doesn’t end in pure joy into a melodrama by giving it the respect it deserves.
The Night of All Nights a thoughtful film. With its focus on heartwarming love stories, it has space for hardship and drama amidst its overarching romantic comedy. With balance and scope, Samdereli’s film tackles the things that make relationships hard for everyone, but in a way that leaves a spectator feeling moved, and uplifted, by the affection that ultimately comes from these extended partnerships despite their difficulties.
The Night of All Nights screens:
-Saturday, Apr. 28 at 9:30 PM at TIFF Lightbox
-Monday, Apr. 30 at 12:45 PM at Isabel Bader
-Friday, May 4 at 9:00 PM at the Fox
Hot Docs runs Apr. 26 to May 6. Visit hotdocs.ca for more information on this year’s festival.