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A punch in the stomach: this film is as unexpected and powerful as the attacks it portrays - read our review of this sobering reflection on terrorism and the shortcomings of social integration in France - right now at the Official Selection of the San Sebastian Film Festival

A film as controversial, inventive and shocking as the subject it depicts: the recent terrorist attacks on French soil. As part of the Official Selection in San Sebastian International Film Festival, Nocturama caused a wild frisson this Sunday.

The first quarter of the film has no narrative. The camera simply follows different characters, all of them young, on the streets and in the tube of Paris. They take pictures of strange things in order to register their journey, and they are always worried about time. Some throw away their mobile in a rubbish bin, just like criminals or secret agents would do. Audience still do not know whether these characters are connected and how.

The lack of rationale in the narrative, as well as the absence of logical explanations make the film very intriguing to watch. The thriller gradually morphs into a suspense movie, until finally the characters meet and dance together. They are all united into one single purpose: a strange dance to terrify Paris.

Bonello uses the history of France ir order to construct new revolutionaries. This bunch of sans culotte are radical and militant partisans. Their rhetoric is not coherent, but they are ready to sacrifice their lives for a new order. They are able to infiltrate the security of French companies because they do not look like Arabs. They are clever enough to rehearse their terrorist attacks in a natural way.

Once their purpose is complete, they decide they will meet again for a whole night in a shopping mall – the most ironic place to be. Malls shouldn’t be a place to be happy, have fun and celebrate the success of a terrorist attack. Indeed Bonello’s criticism of the establishment is very acid. For him, terrorists want the same things as the bourgeoisie.

Some of the scenes are beautifully emblematic of a generation: the emptiness of existence comes in the form of masks, plastic curtains and mannequins. After all extremists are merely string puppets, easy to manipulate. Music in the film is powerful and hypnotic. The sounds of rap, house and pop explain the behaviour of a French generation who inherited the clash as a way of living. Even ‘My Way’, delivered by Shirley Bassey, acquires a new meaning in Nocturama.

The camerawork is also remarkable and somehow resonates with Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003): it follows both killers and victims in a disciplined and homogenous.

There is a lot of anger in France now, this is very clear in the movie. People simply cannot understand how a lorry could drive freely around Nice on the night of a French national holiday. The film reflects the serious dysfunctional facets of a society and the failures of social integration. Watching it is a disturbing catharsis.

Nocturama is showing right now as part of the Official Competition of the San Sebastian Film Festival, which DMovies is covering in loco.

This is the film trailer:


By Maysa Monção - 19-09-2016

Maysa Monção is a Brazilian writer, teacher, translator, editor and art performer who currently lives in London. She has a Masters Degree in Film Studies from Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy, ...

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