Review: Nocturama (2016)

Nocturama (2016)

Directed by: Bertrand Bonello | 130 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Finnegan Oldfield, Vincent Rottiers, Hamza Meziani, Manal Issa, Martin Petit-Guyot, Jamil McCraven, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laure Valentinelli, Ilias Le Doré, Robin Goldbronn, Luis Rego, Hermine Karagheuz, Adèle Haenel, Samir Guitet, Hadidiatou Sakho , Jean-Marie Kerwich, Eric Herson-Macarel, Lucie Leporowska, Khereddine Ennasri, Cynthia Schibli

What drives young people to commit attacks? After watching ‘Nocturama’ you are not much wiser, but the film still holds you in its grip, especially in the first half.

In ‘Nocturama’ we follow a group of young people who prepare a series of attacks in Paris. The first part of the film records their actions in flowing shots with a minimum of dialogue. Sabrina (Manal Issa) checks in at the counter of an expensive hotel. Mika (Jamil McCraven) delivers a package. The two are part of a tightly choreographed plan to blow up buildings and objects that symbolize the established order. The group of terrorists consists in total of about ten men, each with his or her own task. In a non-linear story we see bit by bit how the plan unfolds.

There are small and large cracks. Sabrina has forgotten to sign her fake credit card, attracting attention. Fred (Robin Goldbromm) runs into a guard and Mika is hit by a car. Still, the plan succeeds. After the attacks, the group hides in a luxury department store to sing out the night. The music is loud and many chic outfits are tried on and expensive gadgets are tested. Beneath the exuberance, the fear and doubt are palpable. Especially when the TVs in the electronics department show what’s happening outside the department store. It becomes clear to the youngsters that they may not make it through the morning.

The strength of ‘Nocturama’ is also its weakness at the same time. Director Bertrand Bonello does not take a position and leaves a lot of room for his own interpretation. He leaves you in the dark about the motives of the youngsters. Do they want to make a political statement? And if so, what exactly is that statement? Are they driven by wantonness, a thirst for adventure, idealism or a desire for togetherness? Do they hope to bring their action to paradise, to create a better world or to turn the existing world upside down? Is it relevant that the film ends with the words “help me”? Bonello hints at everything and therefore at nothing.

We never really get to know the terrorists in ‘Nocturama’, but it is clear that they are not a homogeneous group. Street ruffians team up with high achievers. One unscrupulously blows up guards, the other is concerned about possible civilian casualties. One wants to be a martyr, the other just hopes to pick up his life the next day. What the terrorists have in common is that they are all young people who do not understand the consequences of their actions. But you can’t call the attacks impulsive either.

As fresh, well acted and fascinating as ‘Nocturama’ is, at the end of the day you don’t know what to do with this story. It must also be said that the film noticeably collapses in the second half. On the other hand, Bonello resists the temptation to provide easy explanations for complex problems. Let’s face it: some things are just hard to understand. In that respect, Bonello’s approach is actually appropriate.

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