Published on January 27th, 2022 | by Robert Barry Francos0
Saul at Night
We take a look Cory Santilli’s 2019 film, Saul at Night, where a man named Saul lives in a dystopian society that revolves around sleep.
Covid vaccines. Voting suppression. Conspiracy theories. In all of these, and more, there is a contingent of people who believe that the government is trying to control our lives. Of course, this is mostly nonsense, but this film takes it as reality in a dystopian, twisted way. No, there’s no martial law, no Big Brother monitors. It’s all sort of mundane, really. And it is expressed in the opening shot of sheep, which could be referring to sleep, or…
In this version of society, sleep is mandatory from 10 PM to 6 AM. For everybody. Well, everybody except the titular – unrelated to “Please Call” – Saul (Kentucker Audley). For he alone is, in the words of Rhonda Sheer, up all night, for the same 8 hours everyone else is in sleepyville. While he sleeps, the world goes on around him, including his wife, Kathyrn (Stephanie Ellis) and their early teenaged daughter, Cleo (Acadia Colan). Sleep is enforced and controlled, so you fall asleep and wake up on the dot, and do not wake up in-between (do people wear adult diapers to bed, or is that controlled, too, I wonder…).
They’re all in the same house, at the same time, but when the females are sleeping, Saul is awake with nothing to do all night, and vice versa during the day as Kathyrn goes to work and the kid attends school. For him, there is no television (no one to watch it, technically, so nothing is aired), no radio, no open stores – though everything seems to be unlocked as he wanders about, including a shopping center (Swansea Mall) and museums – since no one else is awake to steal anything; and like a vampire, no sunlight (I hope he’s getting enough Vitamin D). There are only handwritten notes passed between Saul and his family. In this world, there are no home computers, and cell phones will not work for him since there is no one awake to talk. Well, the one computer proper we do get to see is an old cathode monitor rather than a slim type. And when Saul needs to check in with the government at an office, we see green text on black screen, like coding before WYSIWYG.
When he’s not at home, he’s roaming around an empty Providence, RI (I’m surprised the street lights are on, because in real life, they would be turned off to save government funds), until he suddenly meets someone else who is awake, French-only speaking Amalur (Suzanne Clément, who is Quebecois). After being essentially alone after over 800 days with no one to talk to, or hug, this is a blessing, and a curse. Until they meet, there is perhaps only a dozen words spoken in the film. When Amalur talks, there are very easy to read big, yellow subtitles, I’m grateful to say.
For the longest time, this is a personality study about loneliness, and the lack of mutual spontaneous affection. Even though Saul and Amalur don’t understand each other’s monologs, talking past each other, the sound of another’s voice draws them to each other, even though they both have families. And yet, for some reason, we see the effects on the daytime side of Saul’s family, but not Amalur’s husband and three sons (we only see a photo of them).
There is a very subtle commentary on propaganda and mind control, as we see the rare television commercial (there is no new programming, apparently, as all we see is a clip from the politically safe The Dick Van Dyke Show from the early 1960s; MAGA?) and a billboard, both promoting sleep.
It’s interesting, of course, to see the slow burn relationship between Saul and Amalur, as they both try to communicate the best they can, and not let emotions muck things up, which of course they do, but not necessarily how one might imagine. The film does not take the easy or obvious road, but perhaps a more realistic one. Emotions and nerves are close to the edge for all involved, not just for Saul and Amalur.
The film has been described as science fiction, which is nonsense. I’m sure in the mind of whomever wrote their publicity the fact that it’s a dystopian, authoritarian existence that may be what gave them that idea as a descriptor, but with voting rights being stomped on and a possible Gilead in our future, where technology is controlled by the government, the alterations would be in shades of difference from our current reality, rather than some grand Zardoz (1974), Logan’s Run (1976) or even Orwell’s 1984 perspective. There is an old bon mot that states that films about the past and future are really about the present. This one is especially true.
Considering this is the director’s initial feature after a few shorts, it is quite the impressive debut. The acting is all top notch, though considering the history of the talent that is hardly surprising, and despite the slow and steady pace, there is still a feeling of tension and urgency among the angst. A beautiful and moving film, as well as a warning of what may be around the corner.
Available on AppleTV, Amazon, and Altavod.