Berlinale 2022 review: Four Nights (Deepak Rauniyar)

“Rauniyar manages space and time using a tight script and strong directorial choices to set up a lived-in slice of life on the edge of indie filmmaking.”

Making a short is in principle a matter of economical storytelling. With Four Nights, wedged in between 2016’s White Sun and his next feature The Sky Is Mine (which plays a role in this short), Nepali director Deepak Rauniyar shows that his understanding of this fundamental concept is comprehensive. In just a quarter of an hour he manages to paint a relationship between two people, essentially himself and his wife and creative partner Asha Magrati, working through themes as diverse as gender roles, immigration, feeling at home, sacrifice, and filmmaking itself. Confined for most of this short runtime to a single apartment, Rauniyar manages space and time using a tight script and strong directorial choices to set up a lived-in slice of life on the edge of indie filmmaking.

Filmmaker Ram (Dayahang Rai) and actress Maya (Magrati playing a version of herself) are a couple living temporarily in New York in an apartment they have on loan from friends. Ram is trying to edit his new film but having a hard time with the process. His wife is working as a nanny for rich white families so that he can finish his film, much to the chagrin of Ram who feels she squanders her career as an actress. He is already a celebrated director with films that have played in Venice (the aforementioned White Sun) and Berlin (Rauniyar’s debut Highway) as well as many other festivals. Yet they still have to rely on help from others and on Maya forgoing her acting for Ram to be able to make films. They are far away from their home country Nepal, trying to adapt as much as possible, with Maya having to hide the fact from the outside world that she is an actress. Despite his success on the festival circuit, Ram is struggling to get financing to finish the project he is working on, oblivious to the fact that Maya is slowly drifting away from him, the passion they share for filmmaking now threatening to drive them apart as Maya intends to accept a job that will require her being away from Ram for four nights every week.

At one point during Four Nights Rauniyar starts on a wide shot of Ram and Maya sitting at the dinner table discussing the job Maya has been offered. As the camera slowly zooms in, Maya tries to convince Ram that one of them compromising to keep the dream of making the film alive is not such a bad thing. Ram tries to move away from the subject, and as the shot finally ends on a close-up of Maya the conversation has become a subdued fight. It is moments like this that show Rauniyar’s storytelling control, letting camera and actors work in tandem to create tension and drama. Because Four Nights comes down to a number of conversations, either between the two of them or between Ram and people who are trying to get his film financed, the dialogue has to reveal a lot, but it does so organically, never feeling forced or expository. Rauniyar and Magrati co-wrote the screenplay, so they have first-hand insight into the relationship depicted (it is their own, after all), and that really helps the film to feel very lived-in. It makes Four Nights not only a brief look into the struggle artists have to go through to get their art made, but also an intimate glimpse into Rauniyar and Magrati’s private life.