(director/writer: Bertrand Bonello; cinematographer: Leo Hinstin; editor: Fabrice Rouaud; music: Bertrand Bonello; cast: Finnegan Oldfield (David), Laure Valentinelli (Sarah), Vincent Rottiers (Greg), Hamza Meziani (Yacine), Manal Issa (Sabtina), Martin Guyot (Andre), Ilias Le Doré (Samir), Robin Goldronn (Fred), Luis Rego (Jean-Claude), Jamil McCraven (Mika), Hermine Karagheuz (Patricia), Adèle Haenel (La jeune femme au vélo); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating:NR; producers: Edouard Weil, Alice Girard; Grasshopper Film; 2016-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Inhabits the nihilistic and violent mood of the times.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The title is derived from a 2003 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album. Nocturama can be defined as the part of the zoo where they keep the small animals that only come out at night. The artistic French filmmaker, writer and director, Bertrand Bonello (“Saint Laurent”/ “House of Pleasures”), fervently in a dreamy manic manner tells of a fictional terrorist attack in Paris from the P.O.V. of the rebels. The intense moody thriller is overlong and over stylish, but is also arty and hypnotic. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Third Generation is a more insightful and imaginative examination of radical terrorism, but this film inhabits the nihilistic and violent mood of the times. With its dark vision of society, it thrives on getting to the alienation and frustration these inarticulate teens have and stays with them in their shallowness and inability to think things out with any depth. By fudging everything as abstract, it wiggles out of boxing itself into inner confinements and questions over morality.
The first 40 minutes has little dialogue. It shows a racially diverse co-ed group of 9 teens involved in an intricate well-organized coordinated crime spree. They individually plant explosives throughout the streets to blowup buildings, cars, monuments and the metro stations of Paris. The armed gang communicate via burner cell phones and silent looks. Their vague philosophy is culled from sarcastic left-wing propaganda by such shallow characters as the guilt-ridden leftist college student David (Finnegan Oldfield); his girlfriend Sarah (Laure Valentinelli); the class-privileged thrill-seeking André (Martin Petit-Guyot); and the cross-dressing Muslim bus boy Yacine (Hamza Meziani). After the attack, which includes a cold-blooded murder and a series of bombings, including one at the Ministry of the Interior. At night, during the film’s second part, the surviving teen terrorists stay together at a closed and abandoned windowless shopping mall department store (shot at the Art Nouveau building La Samaritaine) and we watch them behave as a group acting out their fantasies and only we reflect on their destructive attack against humanity, institutions, consumerism, property and the capitalist establishment. It leaves us no room to care about the victims only to indulge in the whims of the self-content radicals as the ones that seem to matter most to the plot.
The put-on viewer is asked to weigh in on this ugly act of terrorism, where the terrorists, viewed as ciphers, have no viewpoints or requests but seemingly do it for thrills and self-gratification. The frivolity of the film is shown by the filmmaker who is either unable or unwilling to clearly voice any substantial radical ideas and gives us no satisfactory answer for the dubious morality of the radicals. Their earnestness, which is regaled as a kind of innocence, hardly seems a good reason to commit such atrocities, even against a society that is so flawed. I had trouble reconciling Bonello’s contentious position that shows no true understanding of the times, but instead reduces everything to outlining broad events without ever touching on the causes of the ills in society and thereby finding a sensible way to get solutions in a peaceful instead of a violent way. What the evasive provocateur Bonello seems to admire or maybe even advocate, seems banal and makes me think this is merely an irresponsible film. Yet it’s an intriguing and risky film, one worth seeing because of its killer soundtrack (like Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” and the director’s own driven score) and that it raises dark questions about Western society and its troubled youth that are rarely raised in commercial films.
It steals from other films about revolutionary acts but makes everything stolen its own, even if it might remind us of more accessible films it stole from such as the American thriller classics Dawn Of The Dead and Assault On Precinct 13. These filmsare also pulsating, alarming, abstract and nocturnal.It should be noted that Nocturama was filmed before the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
REVIEWED ON 3/8/2018 GRADE: B+