Noite Vazia (Walter Hugo Khouri / Brazil, 1964):

Empty night, ailing Eros. São Paulo at dusk is one of Eliot's preludes ("burnt-out ends of smoky days"), a few scrims modulated by Walter Hugo Khouri from La Notte toward Faces. Unfinished statues under the credits, stony hands not quite touching; the wannabe bon vivant (Mário Benvenutti) bids wife and son farewell and leaps into the hollow nightlife with a depressed friend (Gabriele Tinti), who's too apathetic to finish an argument with his girlfriend and too spineless to resist free drinks and easy women. The two pass through bar counter, rockabilly joint, and Japanese tea ceremony in search of the muse, and finally order a pair of contrasting demimondes from the Antonionennui catalogue, a Vittiesque lioness with blonde mane and mean eyes (Odete Lara) and a tremulous mini-Moreau (Norma Bengell) who's got a "Cleopatra complex" and the capacity to still suffer from feelings. The quadrille proceeds like a chess match in a cage of bare walls, diaphanous curtains, and African décor -- Lara claims Tinti while Benvenutti settles for Bengell in the first round, though the hardened cynics and the wounded romantics soon gravitate toward each other as the inanities and cruelties drag on. Khouri's sensuality was never more in synch with his existentialism: Lara's disgust at her own nude reflection in a ceiling mirror becomes self-infatuation, a book dictates Kama Sutra poses and porno loops are screened and, when those diversions fade, the guys propose a lesbian tryst. ("Why do men always want that," Bengell wonders afterwards, wiping doleful tears.) The Capra effect (faces photographed through rainy windows) comes in for a hint of desperate purification, yet one of the only moments to crack the modish indifference comes when Lara recounts a nightmare of bloody pursuit through a world of windowless houses. Alienation sits like an anvil over Khouri's lovers, his camera pushes through the fog in search of redemptive beauty and finds it in the close-ups of anguished leading ladies, triumphing over the city's modernist silhouettes. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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