In 1930, author and soldier Ernst Jünger wrote «there is no war without photography», and compared «shooting» a motif to shooting a person. It takes the “same form of intelligence” to locate an enemy with a weapon as it takes to photograph “grand historical events in great detail.”
Award-winning film 1,000 times good night by Erik Poppe saw its Norwegian premier at its Film from South festival. War photographer Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is unable to choose between family and career. Her charming Dublin-based family – husband and two young daughters – miss her, want her back home, worries about her. At the same time, her eldest daughter’s age-old fear that the mother will die in a war zone is such that she sometimes wishes her dead. The husband screams that she reeks of death and wants to throw her out of the house. Will she give up her profession or is her destiny following the camera to conflicts around the world?
Poppe’s production keeps to the conventional narrative form using one main character: The traditional drama is initiated by an event (the Kabul explosion), followed by ensuing confusion in the form of scenes featuring smaller climaxes and crossroads (convalescence, staying at home, reconciliation, just one final trip), and building up to a great pinnacle as the main character enters the other side – transformed or wiser. In this sense, it is a film aimed at the wider public structured in three parts consisting of estimation-confrontation-solution, including its subsequent resolution.
Complicated world. John Christian Rosenlund, Poppe’s cinematographer, deserves accolade for his unique photographic work – focus, colours and perspective charge the story and make the content real. The emotive film score seems, however, counterproductive. It is as if you want to cover your ears due to the excessive strings and keyboards – the audience is instructed to “feel!” along with the emotions expressed in the drama. Why did Poppe not put his trust into his and Rosenlund’s atmospheric images and the expressive faces of his accomplished actors?
Simultaneously, it is an reasonable business demand that the private investors (one fifth) expected to profit from a 41 million film. The exciting topics surrounding war photographers make us overlook some of the errors of the details: As in the scene where an injured Rebecca, in the dusty aftermath of an explosion, barely able to look up yet still manages to snap a couple of crystal clear shots before fainting – without even dusting off the lens. Unique events most often require narration in order to be understood.
Another perspective is found in the Morgenbladet newspaper where Ulrik Eriksen – who deemed much of the film “unclear” – pull paradoxes out from his logical sandpit: Including Rebecca’s profiteering from images of other people’s misery which affords her a luxurious lifestyle, or that photographing a suicide bomber makes her an accomplice. His conclusion – that “the film itself is ill-conceived”, seems like the eager black and white views of to a journalist safely ensconced away from the conflict areas. In a more complex world, it is not necessary to live in the slum to be able to depict violence, nor to think that averting a suicide attack would alter the conflicts.
Both Poppe and his hired helper – war photographer Zoriah Miller – have been to battle zones. The latter spent almost 15 years behind the camera in conflict areas, whilst Poppe worked actively as a war reporter in the 1980s and recently returned to war zones alongside, among others, the Norwegian Refugee Council. These experiences have probably lent the film some of its gravitas. Over the space of a couple of months prior to the filming, Poppe asked Miller to instruct Binoche in the daily life of a war photographer. In fact, several of Miller’s stills feature in the final film.
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