Docpoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival


A Night of Knowing Nothing

A film student’s notebook, full of letters that will never be sent. Awarded best documentary at Cannes, A Night of Knowing Nothing tells the stories of a notebook found in a dormitory of the Film and Television Institute of India, in a cupboard in room S18.

In 2014, the Hindu nationalist party BJP won India’s parliamentary elections, and soon began to put pressure on students and universities. Students responded with protests.

In her letters, the film student referred to only as “L” speaks about participating in the protests by her lover’s side, until he distances himself from her due to her lower caste. The film presents a divided India with many fault lines; protesters and police, rich and poor, right-wing and left-wing, Hindus and Muslims.

L is fictional, and so are the letters that she has written to her past lover. Her letters read like a diary that holds within it many heartbreaks. The story is deeply personal, yet also political.

The vulnerable narrative style and soft, black-and-white imagery from dormitories and dance floors create a poetic form of story-telling. News segments, surveillance camera footage and testimonies from protesters bring a political dimension to the story.

Special attention is given to the school that the narrator attends. In the background, we see glimpses of movie references such as a poster of Akira Kurosawa, as well as protest calls such as ”Eisenstein, Pudovkin, we shall fight, we shall win.”

In the end, students become filmmakers and filmmakers become historians. Director Payal Kapadia is herself an alum of the film school she documents.

Kaisu Tervonen (translated by Mira Sairanen)

Language: Bengali, Hindi
Subtitles: English
Length: 97 min
Age Limit: K7
Year: 2021
Production Country: France, India

Director: Payal Kapadia
Producer: Thomas Hakim, Julien Graff, Ranabir Das
Production Company: Petit Chaos, Another Birth
Screenplay: Payal Kapadia, Himanshu Prajapati
Editing: Ranabir Das
Cinematographer: Ranabir Das
Sound Design: Moinak Bose, Romain Ozanne