La Noche de los girasoles (Night of the Sunflowers) starts with two separate stories that are interwoven: the discovery of a cave that may or may not drastically change the fortunes of a small northern Spanish village, and the murder of a girl found in some nearby sunflower fields. Both storylines act as a catalyst for what subsequently takes place and are merged together through the arrival of speleologist Esteban (Carmelo GíÂ³mez) and his girlfriend Gabi (Judith Diakhate) in the village. The film is told in six chapters that each expand as well as cast further light on the story. Each chapter starts further back in time than the previous one and ends further ahead, thus moving the story forward. Each chapter also has a new protagonist, often introduced towards the end of the preceding section, who is linked to the story in a coincidental way.
The first feature by young Spanish director Jorge Sí¡nchez-Cabezudo, it is one of those films that feel like they were constructed on a drawing board before they were actually written in order to make sure that, as the puzzle unravels, all angles are covered. The last ten years have seen a proliferation of such films: Se7en, The Game, Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to name but a few. However, those movies only used their elaborate construction and multiple twists and turns for no other reason than to cover up their own hollowness whereas La Noche de los girasoles is a far more sophisticated and mature film. By telling the story backwards Sí¡nchez-Cabezudo manages to convince us first of all that all these coincidences could plausibly occur – which is no mean feat considering how many there are. What’s more, by combining this with a construction in six chapters that each have their own titles, he very successfully manages to engage you in what are essentially six gripping and very different short stories, ranging in tone from the Taviani Brothers to Claude Chabrol and ending in a scene that can only be seen as a tribute to VíÂctor Erice’s Spirit Of the Beehive.
The main achievement here is how well it all works, how effortless the construction seems and how it gives Sí¡nchez-Cabezudo the chance to spin lovely side stories that give you a genuine sense of life in a little rural Spanish village. It feels like Sí¡nchez-Cabezudo really knows the environment he describes and although his choice of characters might be a tad predictable (travelling salesman, village idiots and policemen) he manages to flesh them out to be much more than just stereotypes.