“…I couldn’t shoot the gorgeous panoramic 360s I got the day before with the tail-mounted camera, because one 360 would have put us over beautiful downtown Burlington with a large black lake blocking the downwind escape. I hate when that happens.”
— from Night Is Not Falling by Michael Robertson, Hang Gliding magazine, March 1996
The 1995 movie When Night is Falling by Patricia Rozema, reviewed by Everard Cunion in November 2015
This movie is about beautiful women and brave, er, women… It is one of two films made in 1995 that feature flying by Canadian hang gliding safety guru Michael Robertson. Although the flying scenes are short, without them, this film would be much less noteworthy.
It is also a film about lesbians. (It has something for everyone!)
After the arty intro, which consists of gratuitous film the two women swimming naked underwater, the opening scenes are filmed looking inwards through the windows of a college of religion. The windows reflect winter trees and, although I am wary of art for art’s sake (and I hate images overlaid on top of each other) that effect provides a sensation of remembering a place and time now gone. Anyway, that is the feeling it gave me.
Then, in scenery reminiscent of the woodlands that appear in the 2007 Canadian film Lars and the Real Girl, the two women, one a literature teacher at the college and the other a circus performer, emerge into a snowy clearing near Burlington, a half hour from Toronto. There, two hang gliders are rigged in the snow and a launch winch is ready. (Both hang gliders are Pacific Airwave Vision 2 dual wings, as far as I can discern.) It transpires that Petra is a dual-rated hang glider pilot and she has arranged a surprise for her new friend Camille…
The close-ups of the two women supposedly flying the hang glider and the cuts to the real flying are carried out seamlessly, imparting the impression that Petra indeed has the USHGA rating that the glider’s owner demands to see before allowing the launch to go ahead. (For the film, Robertson shaved off his beard and he flew with a female hang gliding instructor as the passenger. However, the actual flying shots, at least from my DVD, are distant enough so it would not have made any difference had he left his beard intact.)
The hang gliding was filmed at dusk in windy conditions, so Camille’s fear and the ‘sub-optimal’ landing are totally plausible. (In fact the ‘sub-optimal’ landing is real!) During the landing approach, you see the effect of turbulence tipping the glider this way and that, which the film makers worked into the in-flight dialog between the two women (recorded later of course).
Camille is slightly injured in the landing, but she is in the category we hangies term ‘walking wounded’. Needless to say, a bit of physiotherapy by Petra later that evening is in order…
Hang gliding and sex are not the only physical activities portrayed. The film also includes twin sisters demonstrating a remarkable trapeze dance act.
In this screenshot, one sister has just climbed down from the trapeze and is horizontal. No external devices are holding her in place!
Why these guys are carrying a hang glider (without a cover bag) through the woods at night is not clear to me, but I never was much good at following story lines. (Just give me the visuals!) However, it is a good thing they do, because it results in them saving the life of one of the main characters.
The hang gliding and the Steben sisters’ trapeze act are the only action in the movie. The result is that the film is somewhat similar to a soap opera, relying on the ‘drama’ of interpersonal dialog to interest the viewer. That is a demanding call and it is where this film does not measure up. I am no expert at films, but it is clear to me that it needs drastic cutting. If the result is too short a film, the story should be improved somehow so it captures the attention for longer.
As with many films, the backing music of violins is intrusive an unnecessary, especially in the flying scenes.
A criticism of the DVD programming, which is not a criticism of the film, is that the menus are incomprehensible. However, there are not many ‘extras’, so I found that, with a bit of semi-random clicking, I succeeded in turning off the subtitles.
And a criticism not of this movie, but of the film industry as a whole, is the way the likes of Michael Robertson appear way down in the list of credits, below the gaffers and key grips and other ground pounders. Flight crew should be first in the list, before the actors. However good they are, they are just actors. Robertson and the lady instructor from California did the real flying.
Hang gliding films are rare. The hang gliding in this one, although there is not a great deal of it, is well done and fully integrated with the story. The Steben twins’ remarkable act, although purely incidental to the story, also justifies watching this film.
The acting is good. Camille, played by Pascale Bussières, is totally believable as a small town academic woman, young enough to believe that she has to explain her actions to those around (and, in doing so, arousing their suspicions) and impressionable enough to fall for the inevitable geezer in a suit whose crowning achievement in life is presenting the keynote speech at some conference or other.
The geezer, played by Henry Czerny, is completely convincing as the provincial big fish in a small pool who is at ease with the world and enjoying the good life. Until Petra turns up and he gradually sees the whole stack of cards on which his life is founded falling away. I almost felt sorry for him when he loses his girl!
Digression: It strikes me that there is an alternative explanation to that of the girl who grows up in the ‘small pool’ and fails to develop the ability to discern genetic quality in men. The fact is that many women nowadays prefer the dodgy geezer to the daring and intelligent young men that used to be considered the top pick. My page of digressions from my review of the 1970 motorcycle racing movie Little Fauss and Big Halsy examines possible reasons.
In Britain, the hypothetical black Welsh lesbian is a humorous incarnation of the ultimate politically correct female. Making a central character a black Canadian lesbian doubtless invites similar ridicule, yet Rachael Crawford – and the script writers – have created a strong enough character to impart the impression of being thoroughly up to the task of taking on the reactionary element, which this film does thoroughly well, in my view.
The sex scenes, which include male/female as well as female/female, are reasonably good, although somewhat dark, at least on the DVD. And of course they are not as explicit as equivalent material available via the web nowadays.
It is a shame that the film is let down by its lack of pace and the inclusion of ‘filler’ repetition of previous shots, albeit sometimes in slow motion.
Lastly, dog lovers will love the twist in the tale at the end.
Related (internal links)
Easy riser, my review of the movie Fly Away Home, Columbia Pictures, 1996, which also features hang gliding by Michael Robertson
Paint it black, my overview of the 20th Century Fox hang gliding movie Sky Riders (1976)
Rumours, half truths, and statistics, a brief overview of the 2007 Canadian movie Lars and the Real Girl appended to my overview the documentary of Guys and Dolls