Mary Rose Cook

Abendland

A documentary by Nikolaus Geyrhalter. Notionally, it shows a series of things that happen at night: monitoring of borders, conventions of EU sub-committees, care for the elderly and prematurely born, parties, news broadcasting, pornographic broadcasting, food production, policing, counseling for the suicidal. Reviewers have noted different themes. Surveillance. Protection. The service industry. But these notes tell you more about the commentator than the theme of the film.

My own conclusions on the theme changed as I watched: being on or off stage, activities that happen at night, people who are working surrounded by people who are not, the services people provide to others.

By the end, I had arrived at: jobs that must be done at night. But distilling it down to that is a trivialisation. It is more worthwhile to think, “There are jobs that can’t wait until morning”, and take that as a jumping off point. Some general questions arise. What do these jobs entail? Why can’t they wait? Who does them? How? Then, more specific questions arise. Why does the night nurse clean the hand rails in the care home as well as attending to the patients? How does one talk to a stranger who is suicidal? Why are parcels sorted separately from letters?

In the film, there are many moments of distance and alienation. But, there are moments of human connection, too - a nurse tenderly feeding an old woman from a beaker, two people taking turns to shower after having sex, the film’s poster showing a network of street lights strung through the darkness of Europe.

Unsleeping people connected in the night.