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FILMS Switzerland

Sleepless in New York: A dive into the intimacy of three broken hearts


- After letting us discover faraway realities, Christian Frei is offering us a journey through our deepest selves, in the confused collapse of those feelings we call love.

Sleepless in New York: A dive into the intimacy of three broken hearts

Even if the theme is definitely different to those we may be more used to, more anchored in a specific type of social reality (from the contradictions of a chimeric Cuba to the literally stratospheric excesses of space tourists), the latest documentary by Christian Frei does not betray his acute, profound and extremely modern vision of the world. His vision is able to suggest without imposing, giving us the richness of an infinity of (unexpected) reflection points. His particular way to look at the world is able to pick up on the most subtle of situations, making himself the (discreet but strong) main character from his film. 

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Sleepless in New York [+see also:
interview: Christian Frei
film profile
is a definite turn in the Swiss documentary filmmaker’s career, but it is a change that is continuous – that of a director who was able to build himself, one film after the other, on a strong sense of personal aesthetic. The new direction taken towards more universal questions falls into those questions, which concern each and everyone of us.

Despite the fact that love and heartache entail extremely strong emotions, vividly expressed through literature, poetry, music and innumerable fiction films, the feelings are often simplistically relegated to the world of adolescence – light themes, which are overlooked in the more serious world of adults. The intelligence of Christian Frei has precisely been to step away from these preconceptions in order to tackle themes differently. 

Without overdoing a strategy to avoid that feeling of pathos that is a part of the feeling of love, Frei confronts it, scrutinises it, but never falls in the trap of sensationalism. The Swiss director allows his characters to express themselves liberally (through voice-off or web cam) in a kind of a stagnated dance, a shared secret diary, where all reveal their feelings, with urgency, desperation, and sometimes rage. Sleepless in New York avoids any kind of simplistic solution, concentrating on the present only, on that obsessive and self-destructive behaviour, which we live through together with the three main characters whose hearts have been broken. They are suspended in between a past they must forget and a future they need to rebuild. At the centre of these three lives is an authoritative voice: that of anthropologist Hellen Fisher, who is a world-renowned researcher on heart brakes. But she has no answers to give to any of the questions raised. To the contrary, this new point of view adds to the tension between what is rational and irrational. Sleepless in New York does not pretend to define the feeling that is love (and its end), what it seeks to do is describe it, compare it, let it speak through images (from the darkness of nights without sleep to the angst and happiness existing behind closed doors), which become main characters in a mysterious story, which almost has noir film airs about it.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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