BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT
Soft boys by day, kings by night. The film follows a group of young Bulgarian Roma who come to Vienna looking for freedom and a quick buck. They sell their bodies as if that’s all they had. What comforts them, so far from home, is the feeling of being together. But the nights are long and unpredictable.
One captain, one boat, two boatmen, the Danube, Vienna’s skyline in the background... Whether it’s reality or fiction isn’t important. The protagonists in Brothers of the Night do exist in real life: They’re Bulgarian Roma. Sometimes they’re like tiger cubs, at other times they’re the gay sailors from Fassbinder’s “Querelle” or Marlon Brando’s grandchildren, wearing their leather jackets like suits of armour.
Poverty and a sense of adventure has brought them to Vienna. They sell their bodies because they don’t want to beg for money or peddle newspapers. Their customers are lonely, usually older men who live in public housing. The guys do “business” with them, a word they choose to make a clear distinction between work and pleasure.
It’s a made-up world within the real one, and it’s temporary. The Bulgarians have replaced the Romanians, who moved on to Italy. Truth and lies! Sobriety and drunkenness! A life lived between the two worlds. In Bulgaria, they get married at 16 and have children six months later. Their families need the money. They have to get away. And then they get to the blue and pink nightlife of the gay bar Café Rüdiger, the macho talk and fantasies of making big money that materializes into flashy belt buckles and crappy black cars. They boast and lie all the time. Anything’s possible at night. Between brothers.
As long as you can still dream, life will go forward. Dreams keep you going and keep hope alive, the hope that they will come true some day. “Just dream something that has a chance of coming true” is the advice of people who have already stopped dreaming. After watching this film, you’ll want to reply that you should never stop believing in what you really want for yourself.
The young men in Patric Chiha’s Brothers of the Night dream about the future. But before their dreams come true, they live in the present. At a small café in Vienna they offer their services and sell their bodies, because a new life isn’t free. They’re Bulgarian Roma. Whoever comes to Austria with unrealistic expectations learns the truth at the café where these youths gather every night. But Brothers of the Night, says Chiha, is “not a film about these young men, it’s a film with them.” And it isn’t about poverty and exploitation, but optimism and affection.
To appreciate the world with all your senses, you must become immersed in it. You have to open yourself up to it before its doors will open to you. This requires trust, the trust that a filmmaker has to show people—and is rewarded with while working with them. Patric Chiha earned this trust by approaching the group slowly and without reservation. In this sense, Brothers of the Night is a kind of invitation to approach these young men in the theater not as a neutral observer, but to spend an hour and a half with them, experiencing their days—and most importantly their nights.
“I don’t have any problems here in Vienna,” claims one of them, “I just have problems in Bulgaria. With my wife.” This statement says a great deal, as it reflects not a denial of the harsh reality but an almost optimistic view of it. These men brought their pasts with them to Vienna, and their families, though they have been left behind, are omnipresent: Photos of women and children light up on the displays of their cell phones, memories and experiences are shared, judgments are proclaimed, fears are stated, and new plans are worked out without interruption.
Brothers of the Night is a film in which the harsh reality is repeatedly broken through by means of a high level of artificiality—which is what makes it tangible. Many of the staged scenes, which were worked out jointly, show the young men in a carefully arranged composition and bathed in a rich spotlight: A café gleams in violet, shining red candle bulbs cast their shadows on the bodies of men posing at the bar, a huge painting of a naked woman behind them. Chiha employs these and other alienating devices to literally create a stage for his protagonists, who can mount it as if it were a protected space: The greatest amount of safety can be found in a place where you don’t have to expose yourself.
Intimacy depends not on how close the filmmaker gets to a protagonist, but the kind of empathy the protagonist is shown. For this reason, Brothers of the Night isn’t a social-realist film that observes, or even dissects, but one that attempts to understand. And circumstances can be most easily understood when you’re interested in the hopes and dreams of others, no matter how unrealistic they seem. Chiha doesn’t ask any questions and doesn’t conduct any interviews, he gives his protagonists an opportunity to speak for themselves. The answers follow, are provided with every pose and gesture, often with nothing more than a shy smile or a defiant look, with no further prompting.
Each of these young men has his own story. Each one has pride and dignity. Each one looks at the world with defiance, knowing that Vienna isn’t the end of the line, and that things won’t just be the same somewhere else. But the day of their departure is nearing. So at its conclusion, Brothers of the Night says farewell to its protagonists at a bus station where they leave for home, knowing full well that this can’t really be the end. That will happen in the form of a wonderful epilogue in which words are no longer necessary. Not because everything has already been said, but because certain feelings simply don’t need them.
When I found myself stuck in a very strange pub in Vienna one evening, I knew I’d found my next film: The bar was sleazy yet aesthetically pleasing in a tacky kind of way, as if from a different time. Lonely old men sat while proud, capricious young men pranced around the pool table, immediately reminding me of Pasolini or Fassbinder’s broken heroes. It had been a long time since I’d seen bodies like theirs in film, the playful way in which they moved, danced, loitered and chatted away. I wanted to get to know these people and to film them.
The boys are young Bulgarian Roma who have left behind poverty, their families and social customs. But they’re not really free in Vienna either. They’re divided. On the one hand, they have to have sex with men they find physically repulsive, but, on the other hand, they can finally be young here, far away from their wives and children, far away from their responsibilities.
I didn’t want to make a film about them, but rather with them. It had to be full of energy and playful. They play roles when they’re at work. In their everyday lives, they’re always acting. Their lives are full of fiction, full of the stories they tell each other. They’re proud. Generous. Imaginative. Irresponsible. On the hunt. So I went in search of a style that would do them justice. We decided on everything that was directed and staged together. Fiction can be truer and more real than having a camera that just stares at economic or social ills. But in this film – as is the case with the boys’ lives – the boundaries between reality and fiction, between looking in the mirror and fantasy, become blurred. Brothers of the Night is above all else a film about feelings.