The beginning of The Sleepless (directed by Michael DiBiasio) indicates an amusing story with shots of two sleepless people who have sheltered in taking pills and listening to tape therapies; It seems to be the story of people suffering from insomnia and hellish nights. In a parallel and simultaneous way, we see a man and a woman in their houses who, unable to sleep, take refuge at TV, and getting no use out of it, they brew herbal tea, take a shower, and get out of the house. The tone of the film reveals itself in these scenes: a black and white film with a bitter appearance through which runs a delicate black comedy. The man and woman accidentally see each other in the nearby supermarket. Both of them are sleepless and are looking for an activity to keep them busy. Perhaps having a look at a supermarket and buying some coffee can be a good idea. The first conversations take place here. Both of them are nervous and obviously isolated from society. Gradually, we get to know them and figure out why such people have no soul mates for their nocturnal moments.
The film introduces its environment brilliantly: black and white images, nocturnal life of New York, sleepless, isolated, and rejected characters, and dialogues that are apparently supposed to bear no special meaning but precisely reveal the condition of their utterers. The film tries to maintain its rhythmic beginning in the characters’ introduction scenes, and although it reaches to the point of their dialogues, the style of framings and cuts indicate that the filmmaker attempts not to interrupt or break the funny and enjoyable rhythm he set earlier. At the same time, by means of the dialogues of the people who are in an awkward situation, we realize a narrow border through which the film moves on: a border between seriousness and fun, bitterness and sweetness, darkness and light.
Sophia and Zak walk along the streets of New York. It is five in the morning and the weather is dark. Both of them are too sleepless to return home and watch TV. In a long shot, as the camera follows them, they talk about their lives. Zak talks about how his opinion about everything has changed after giving up alcohol. We find out that they have some problems that are rooted in their past and still cling to them. This scene, which in the beginning acts as a passage, gives the film a new direction, as if instead of being in a psychiatrist office, these characters are taking a walk in the streets of New York and were talking about themselves, their problems and their way of looking at the world. They talk about dangerous men they have seen in their lives that have worsen their dread of making a relationship with others, about having enough freedom to have honest relationships with others in the society, about the thoughts that are apparently petty and unimportant but can radically change one’s world and turn into much bigger problems. This is the world of people who are either too sensitive or a true to themselves to live in the society; people who fear the violence of the outside world, making relationship with the opposite sex, and getting out of the cocoon of their loneliness. The film, in visual description of these concepts, takes advantage of the characters themselves: their facial expression, figure, way of walking, reactions, and, on top of everything else, the silence of the street.
The film begins at 3 a.m. and shares its world with us more as it moves towards the dawn; the world of a writer, Zak, who seems as if we have known him for years. The film makes good use of walking in the street as a kind of a motif to make these people familiar to us in an unfamiliar environment so that they can be our safe point and, by our identification with them, we can understand the environment. The strong sense in the dialogues lets the filmmaker concentrate more on the advancement of the acting; the actors who have a significant role and a considerable effect on the success or failure of the film. This is an actor-based film where the impact and high quality of the acting is of great value. The filmmaker has shrewdly considered some passages for distancing technique. The first one is witnessing a wandering musician, second, buying some coffee, and third, going to Sophia’s house. These passages lead the story towards a new direction. The main difference between this film and the ones such as Before the Sunrise is its attempt to put emphasis on the characters themselves, on abstract and psychological issues that form their world, not their surroundings.
As the film progresses, the relationship between Zak and Sophia develops further and they talk about their past and their inner tensions. Such a talk converts them from nervous people at the beginning of the movie into calmer and more intimate individuals. The film, through keeping its early rhythm and setting small climaxes in a direction that rarely faces climax and anti-climax, keeps the audience interested and curious to the end; it takes a good advantage of the risky factor of having many dialogues and makes its story ever richer to create a mutual humane relationship between the characters.
The director of the film, Michael DiBiasio, seems to have been well aware of his tools and by using them in the right way, he has made an interesting film; a film that starts with limited tools but by restricting itself actually opens its path to creativity. For him, these characters are good means for making an organized and integrated whole, especially by brilliant frames, by following them in the context of a quiet city and by the delicate sounds we hear; a whole that is to be made of small and partial concepts of daily life but will be a work on trust, hope, and change; a work on the possibility of freedom that exists in the life of each of us but we might not see that. These two characters are a good opportunity for the director to analyze the psyche of the modern man. Through the appealing conversations between the characters, he can find a path to the habits that all of us cling to, the things that make us sleepless. As a result, sleeplessness changes into a metaphor of restlessness, of inability to keep calm, of living without the sense of satisfaction.
We finally see the world of the film turn from black and white to color as Zak and Sophia kiss each other, and people who were once living lonely in a black and white world, get out of it. The Sleepless is eye catching, moving, full of action, and takes us to the maze of New York in a private journey with its protagonists (who are common people in the society, with petty dreams and wishes). The film has combined a proper filming, proportionate to its content, with beautiful, calculated acting, and with exact and principled mix and from the heart of all these, Michael DiBiasio has created a great independent, low cost film; a journey from the bottom of a black and white night to the colored world of the day.