Eryk Rocha’s latest feature BURNING NIGHT is a poignant and persuasive piece about loneliness, survival and the quest for reinvention

3 out of 5 stars

The vibrant, volatile and rapidly changing city of Rio de Janeiro is vividly captured in Eryk Rocha’s latest feature film BURNING NIGHT, a poignant and persuasive portrait about the nocturnal encounters of a down-on-his-luck cab driver.

In order to pay for the child support he needs to send to his ex-wife Livia, recently divorced Paulo (Fabricio Boliveira) starts driving a night taxi to pay to support his ten-year-old son Mateus. As the sun begins to set over Rio de Janeiro, Paulo encounters a variety of colourful customers, from colleagues and cops to drunks and lovers, the passenger’s stories intertwining with his own as he drives through the night of this increasingly frenzied city.

Weaving footage shot on the streets of Rio de Janeiro with fictional scenes of Paulo’s daily life, BURNING NIGHT is an edgy and impressionistic chronicle about a man – and a city – stumbling towards an uncertain future.

Edgy and impressionistic, Rocha delivers some lovely camerawork here, making effective use of extreme close-ups and out of focus shots to not only capture the nuances of the character but also give the film a hallucinatory effect appropriate to Paulo’s nocturnal existence.

Fabricio Boliveira delivers a quiet yet understated performance as Paulo, a man learning to cope with loneliness, fatigue, regret and the new faces in his life. As he begins to learn the codes of his new job, moments of personal doubts intertwine with a city that is constantly reinventing itself, Paulo’s initial temporary solution consolidating to become the reality of his present.

Bárbara Colen delivers an equally nuanced performance as Katrina, the passenger who becomes Paulo’s lover, the pair finding comfort and solace in each other.

Yet despite its modest running time of 98 minutes, BURNING NIGHT feels very much like a slow burner. The vast majority of the film takes place in Paulo’s taxi as he drives around the streets of Rio de Janeiro, often in silence, observing the city. This lack of dialogue is a great driver of tension but also impacts the pacing, the plot, as a result – much like Paulo’s life – going nowhere fast.

The abrupt ending also offers little in the way of closure to this very personal story, leaving many questions unanswered and an overall unresolved feeling which feels unsettling for the audience.
That said, there is plenty to like here, with Rocha delicately merging art and life to deliver a poignant and persuasive piece about loneliness, survival and the quest for reinvention.

BURNING NIGHT (BREVE MIRAGEM DE SOL) screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 3 October 2019.