Last Saturday, I finally moved into my school’s residence. After the abrupt disruption of a sudden wave of COVID-19 cases last March, my original first-year plans for college were suddenly shifted to a virtual mode of presentation. With the development of vaccines and proper testing identification, things are starting to come back to normal in terms of the traditional post-secondary experience. People are slowly coming together, masks full addressed and distance also put into consideration for immunocompromised individuals. Now in my second year, I’m more curious about the year to come. Living as part of a generation notoriously known to be quite politically well-versed and active in public demonstrations, a film such as Payal Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing offers a unique perspective on the heated Gen-Z political sphere found on the other side of the globe; within the walls of the Film and Television Institute of India.
A Night of Knowing Nothing opens with a recording of lost letters from an ominous woman named ‘K’. The film distinctly follows a series of scattershot love-entries, where each diary entry slowly begins to resemble a through-line of political unrest. The letters are narrated, intimately articulated into a microphone; mimicking the chilling effect of ASMR. Kapadia sets the framing device with accessible stakes, a pattern of repeated ambiguous letters of affection that hook the susceptible viewer with its simplicity. Love is ultimately universal, but so are the thematic concepts of desire, damnation, and death. As the film continues, more is revealed on the hypocrisies, discrimination, and class-perils found within the corrupt government sphere that penetrate the film’s opaque lovers. The film’s relationship crux is merely a ploy to highlight a more urgent subject matter; an unraveling social critique on the importance of education and protest, whilst self-containing itself as an essential document on the extensive work efforts of the current young-adult generation.
Police brutality, nationalism, and growing civil unrest: Kapadia’s debut feature is a cyclone of emotional madness that eerily resembles the five stages of grief on a structural scale. The film is also an unraveling testimony to Kapadia’s own fears, experiences and self-projections that surround the halls of the aforementioned India-based institute. The grainy effect of Super-8 film is implemented throughout nearly every frame of the film — creating a haze that further exemplifies the confusion, anger, and growing rage of the student populace. Admittedly, Kapadia’s dedication towards a celluloid aesthetic does become derivative in its thematic appeal, when filters are applied to clearly digital-shot material. Shooting on film is rough and unpredictable — an effect that symbolically resembles the political awakening of the film’s love letters. Once the immersion is broken with filters over digital footage, the thematic weight of the artistic choice diminishes. The aesthetic ultimately becomes void in some retrospect, for a film that is virtually brimming with subtext and substance in nearly every second.
As I write these words, I slowly look out my residence window. With classes just around the corner, I’m curious about the year to come. It’s film school after all, a time and place where introverted artists come together to craft, toil, and party their hearts to the breaking point. Though, there’s something always lurking in the corner. An item of discontent, a ploy that could so easily break the common-ground of peace and social-neutrality. Yet that time has yet to come. Now is a moment of self-reflection; a time to find friends and create new memories. Time flies, and before you know it, a night of knowing nothing repeats itself once more.