As a late-night romantic comedy, After Midnight is short on both the romance and the comedy—at least of the human variety. In fact, with the first character introduced moments from death, the possibility of big laughs is immediately foreclosed. As writer-director Davide Ferrario presents a phantasmagoric view of nighttime Turin, narrator Silvio Orlando speaks of dreams and sexy car thief Angel (Fabio Troiano) staggers into view to reveal that he’s bleeding profusely. Flash back to the Mole Antonelliana, a 19th-century neo-Renaissance skyscraper that’s now Italy’s National Cinema Museum. Shy night watchman Martino (Giorgio Pasotti) has the place to himself during the darkest hours, and by day he snoozes hidden in the structure’s mysterious upper reaches. A devotee of pre-narrative movies and Buster Keaton comedies, Martino sometimes ventures out to shoot Lumière-style footage of his (and Ferrario’s) hometown with a hand-cranked camera. He also regularly visits the fast-foodery near the museum, principally to gaze at beautiful burger flipper Amanda (Francesca Inaudi). After Amanda—who is, of course, Angel’s girlfriend—goes too far in an argument with her boss, she flees from the police and into the museum. Secreted in Martino’s room (modeled after one in a Keaton film), Amanda learns about Fibonacci numbers from her host, who’s as mute as his cinematic hero when not lecturing about Italy’s cultural heritage. Eventually, the doomed Angel discovers Amanda’s hideaway and the trio temporarily settle into a relationship that parallels one in a “French film” Martino says he once saw—Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, another ode to silent movies and threesomes. Complete with clips from some seminal (and out-of-copyright) films, After Midnight recalls numerous Italian exercises in cinephilia. It’s also another example of the current European vogue for heavily fated tales that mingle the demeanor of tragedy with the structure of farce. In this CGI-cursed age, however, what’s most striking about the movie is its passion for actual places and spaces. Martino’s own films explicitly emulate flickering early studies of busy public realms, and cinematographer Dante Cecchin’s digital-video camera reverently explores the Mole’s vast, shadowy hollows. If Martino and Amanda’s romance never seems anything more than superficial, Ferrario’s love for Turin, Keaton, and the nexus of cinema and reality registers as profound.

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