A Night of Knowing Nothing
Youthful passion and India’s turbulent politics come to life in this lyrical documentary that won the 2021 Cannes Golden Eye award.
A cache of love letters is found in a dorm room at the Film and Television Institute of India. Their author, a film student named L, pours out her heart and mind to her lost lover. Against a soft, dreamlike collage of protest and memory, and a brooding electronica score, her essayistic narration muses on the hate crimes, police brutality and student protests sweeping India following the rise of its Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi.
Payal Kapadia’s Cannes-winning debut feature – which subsequently screened to acclaim and accolades at the Toronto, New York, Busan and Mar del Plata film festivals – is visually arresting and formally ambitious, using L’s fictional voice to braid together archival footage and home movies, political commentary and cinephilia. A Night of Knowing Nothing manages to feel both restlessly radical and melancholically nostalgic: a snapshot of a time and mood in recent Indian history that resonates as hostile social divisions resurge. Cinema’s beauty and creativity, Kapadia insists, will fortify us for an ongoing struggle.
“Shimmery [and] poetic … It feels like we are a few hours deep into the excavation of someone else’s memories.” – Variety