This French drama, touted as being one of the most divisive films of MIFF 2017, was absorbing but ultimately lacked the punch I expected.
Exploring notions of terrorism and internal and external threats, Nocturama was interesting in tone and structure, well-characterised and with some great music but it seemed ultimately shallow. The first 20 minutes are almost without dialogue as we follow a disparate group of young people as they each follow a different path through the Paris streets. They catch trains, check watches, take photos, pick up packages and dump phones. The feel is of a carefully orchestrated terrorist attack but the group seems to not be bound by any religion, race nor ideology. As their purpose becomes clear, we are thrown into moments in the past where they meet and plan.
Our journey through the narrative is artfully directed, we get to know these people as individuals but their motivation is always hidden, making them, in an many ways, just ordinary people. They eventually hole up in an empty department store where they wait out the drama that has erupted, amidst luxury.
The department store as a location is an interesting concept. It provides spaces for each to play out their fears and expectations; David (Finnegan Oldfield) and Sabrina (Manal Issa) find a bed and talk of marriage, Mika (Jamil McCraven) worries that she has been recognised, Omar (Rabah Nait Oufella) is nonchalant about the people he has killed but exultant about the qualities of the sound system in the audio department.
It kind of works but I found many aspects of the narrative contrived, not least the wisdom of hiding away in a public place. There are clear attempts at stylistic surrealism; some moments are inexplicably repeated from different perspectives like a cinematic tic, there is an extended lip-synch performance and music is used to pull us in and out of the story – the Willow Smith moment was heralded in the synopsis and had some pathos but no real punch.
There is some suspense although it takes a long time to build to a climax. At more than two hours long, it could have done with a tighter edit which would have allowed for a more consistent pace and less self-conscious artistry. What I think is divisive about the film is the denouement which, after allowing us to understand the diversity of morality in the group, is a blank-faced, blanket solution. This is where the message lies, I suspect.
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.