Nocturne (Lars von Trier, 1980, Denmark)

Nocturne is a 1980 short film by Lars von Trier. The film opens with a shot of a woman against what seems to be a window, standing in silhouette. We hear the sound of birds in the distance, along with crickets. The window suddenly breaks, and a man in a hazmat suit enters in slow motion. The screen fades to black, and then we enter the same woman's bedroom. Bathed in blue light, she is trying to sleep but cannot. She gives herself some eyedrops, but still can't sleep. A voice sounds offscreen, asking if she's slept. "Slept?" she replies.

"I can't go out in the day anymore," her narration continues. This is interspersed with images of dying flowers. We see the woman on the phone, wearing sunglasses. "I could never live with the light on," she tells us. We see a stylized vision in the sepia of the woman on a tiled floor, with papers falling around her. We return to the blue room, where our protagonist is still discussing her flight with another woman. 

We see a vision of the outdoors with sepia tones, and a flock of birds flying. This is set against an ambient track. The birds fly across the screen in a mass. While Nocturne lacks a strong narrative core, the film is interesting for its formal and stylistic experimentation. Von Trier would later work extensively with filters on his feature film debut The Element of Crime. While some may view this short film as pretentious, it owes a great debt to Tarkovsky, another filmmaker who was deeply influential to von Trier. The film is also surprisingly empathetic, for a director who is not known for being the most empathetic. We are meant to identify with our protagonist's sleep problems, and it is likely that von Trier himself also has such problems.



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