Six years after Troubled Water, the Norwegian filmmaker Erik Poppe is back to our screens with A Thousand Times Good Night, which won Special Grand Prize of the Jury at the Montréal World Film Festival last year.
Based on Poppe’s experiences as a Reuters photographer in conflict zones, the film tells us the story of successful war photographer Rebecca Thomas (Juliette Binoche), whom we meet while taking pictures of a female suicide bomber’s preparation ritual. When she decides to get into the car with the bomber to capture her last minutes, things don’t go as planned and she almost loses her life. Back in Ireland with her family, her husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) gives her an ultimatum – either she stops risking her life on her job, or he will leave her and take their daughters. Rebecca decides to try leading a normal life with her family, but the chance to go to Kenya and photograph a refugees camp in a supposedly safe zone – taking her oldest daughter, Steph, with her – gets her back behind the lens…
An unusual yet poignant view about war and the limits of art, where Poppe explores the notion of right and wrong; this film makes us ask when is it right to take a picture of someone suffering or dying without intervening. The cinematography is impeccable (particularly on the watery dream imagery), as one would expect from a film about a photographer, but what makes A Thousand Times Good Night such a emotionally powerful film is the sense of storytelling, typically Scandinavian, of contained sobriety, not showing more than it needs to be seen, and only when it makes a perfect impact. Though the rhythm feels somewhat slow, the excellent soundtrack by Armand Amar and the brilliant acting by Juliette Binoche, who we are still to see giving anything less than a great performance, make amends. In a sense, the dramatic change of rhythm makes sense – just like the protagonist, we the audience can’t wait to get the next shot of adrenaline, and can’t deal with the normality of her family life.
After Rebecca’s journey, there are no answers; we can see both sides, and that does not mean either is wrong or right. Even her, so sure of her mission and happy to have made Steph understand it, goes into a deep sea of doubts when, by destiny, she finds herself back at the beginning of the story, but things are different now. A must-watch to remind you how good films feel like.