By Anthony Zangrillo
The power to ingrain delusion, unpredictability and self-destruction, into not only the atmosphere of a film but in the personality of its characters should only be attempted by a few and is quite a bold move for writer and new director Christian Camargo with his debut film, “Days and Nights.” The credit however is shared with Anton Chekov whose play, “The Seagull,” inspired this modern day remake.
However, Camargo has given the play a more modern americanized frame, setting the film on a Connecticut estate in the 1980s and replacing Chekov’s beloved seagull with the American eagle.
The film follows Elizabeth (Allison Janney), a well-known movie star who brings her lover Peter (Christian Camargo), a famous director, to her lakeside estate that is occupied by the modern day replicas of Chekhov’s dysfunctional family. We have the delusional but ill brother (William Hurt), the hypocritical artist son (Ben Whishaw), the trailing muse (Juliet Rylance), the stressed doctor (Jean Reano), the raunchy caretaker (Michael Nygvist) and his wife (Cherry Jones), as well as their very dreary daughter (Katie Holmes) and her passionate ornithologist husband (Mark Rylance). What ensues is a weekend of chaos and artistically framed self-realizations.
Cinematographer, Steve Cosen, does an impressive job capturing Camargo’s waves of tragedy from the subtle camera pan of an outsider’s perspective to the chaotically filled camera frame. The strength in Camargo and Cosen’s collaboration lies in their ability to show the absolute minimum but still give the viewer the need to make their own empathetic connections with the characters on the screen. Composer Claire van Kampen is a very big contributor to this with her well-crafted soundtrack that meshes eeriness and melancholy, giving each scene the little kick it needs to trigger calamity.
The cast includes a mix of theater favorites and notable film actors. From her pensive stares to her sarcastic sexual remarks, Janney’s performance as the pretentious controlling diva excels. Hurt is charming from the moment he shows up on screen and performs the feat of maintaining a firm level of maturity underneath his child-like exterior. Whishaw is strikingly chilling with the portrayal of the disturbed artist mentality that manages to keep you on the edge. Holmes is the closest in preserving Chekov’s adaption of her character, which is unfortunate because it keeps her in a monotonous state throughout most of the film.
For a directorial debut, Camargo is sure to make quite an impression with this film. Unfortunately, as far as adapting Chekov’s play, Camargo falls short in exploring the original themes and dedicates too much time to building the personality of each character rather then giving them the proper time to act. Chaos in all its forms is gracefully presented in this film and the craft in each frame from sound to sight is exceptional.