Review: 1,000 Times Good Night

Rebecca (Juliet Binoche) is one of the world’s foremost photojournalists. She specializes in going into war zones and getting the shots few would dare to. After a life-changing event she, her husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and her daughters (Lauren Canny and Adrianna Cramer Curtis) struggle to hold their family together as they wrestle mixed emotions about her employment.

1,000 Times Good Night drops you into the deep end from the start. It places you alongside an embedded journalist. With scarcely any dialogue of significance we follow Rebecca as a suicide bomber is prayed over and prepares to do what she sees as her duty. It is an affecting and hypnotic start to the film. Much like Rebecca herself we merely see her in the field, are just focused on her in the moment. That assignment having ended we see her making her way home. A family we didn’t know was there, that feared for her safety, emerges. As the film goes on to be about the family’s struggles with each other and the demands of the matriarch’s employment, we see what a sage beginning to the story this was. Instantly we are shown the dilemma facing them all: what Rebecca does matters, she’s excellent at it, and it separates her from her family and consistently threatens to tear them apart.

Having persistently been in war zones she faces battles at home. However, when dealing with a narrative such as this the tendency can be to treat this with too facile a touch, make conflicts too petulant and infantile (especially the adult ones). Similarly, there are also cycles of acceptance and rejection ongoing. The characters each struggle within themselves and then with one another.

Not only is there a fairly complicated relationship each character shares with the fact that Rebecca is a professional photographer but there are some reversals as well. The film also deals with two very different types of mise-en-scène to create: both area of conflict set-ups and more homey scenarios. The film excels in both and then really puts the cherry on top when it combines them both in a necessary narrative turning point.

The films direction from that crucial midpoint, how it deals with the secrets kept and lies told are the only significant slips in an otherwise sure-handed film. However, the sequence in question is not long and the ill-effects are overcome and backed up by a very strong and decisive third act.

The framing mechanism in the narrative works perfectly, and again almost entirely without any need of dialogue, encapsulates the central struggle of the story. The success of the final act of the film surpasses merely mechanical distinction. The visceral connection that conclusion makes is due in large part to Juliette Binoche’s interpretation of her character. Binoche is strong throughout, a women always seemingly entirely present in her current environs, a convincingly passionate crusader for justice and loving mother racked by guilt. Her performance alone is enough to carry the film, but she does have help.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does have to breakout from a personage that seemingly has less dimension than the other but he shows compassion, vulnerability and hurt anger and effectively creates the image of a father who not only raises his girls alone, but feels estranged from a wife he’s still married to. Lauryn Canny, as Rebecca’s eldest daughter, has the unenviable task of being a typically rebellious, dramatic teenager throughout much of the film. However, she does eventually shows other levels and to her character, even if she’s still a bit immature. Not to be undersold Adrianna Cramer Curtis’ quiet loyalty to begin with is a necessary counterpoint that adds much emotion.

1,000 Times Good Night
in dealing with a woman caught between two sets of responsibility and two worlds, the second where she wields a camera like a weapon, has the responsibility to be a highly visual film. It is so, but is also a fairly taut and moving account that offers a lot to think of as families the world over balance homebound and global responsibility in different ways all the time.

8/10

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Thankful for World Cinema: Summer Hours

Summer Hours is the latest film from acclaimed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, probably most well-known for his film Irma Vep. This film examines a family dealing with the death of its matriarch. While this is a film that does have its occasional moments of clarity and near-brilliance, it is usually too distracted by its own subterfuge to make any real emotional impact on the audience.

The film opens up well enough with the matriarch Hélène’s 75th birthday party. Here we meet the rest of the family who have been scattered about the world. There is Adrienne, played admirably by Juliette Binoche, who is a designer in New York and Jérémie Renier, who works for Puma in China. Lastly, there is Frédéric (Charles Berling) an economist and family man who lives closest. In the beginning, we see each of the characters get sketched and it is intriguing. There are wonderful scenes both between Berling and Hélène (Edith Scob), when she first mentions the need for him to manage her estate when the time comes which he doesn’t want to hear, and Binoche and Scob when they talk about the tea service is even better and is played with great nuance and subdued emotion and longing by both.

After each Berling and Binoche have their breakdowns, one total and one restrained, the building of character comes to a near stand-still in some ways the narrative comes to a near stop as well. While there were the occasional discussions of an object to mask meaning and emotion in the beginning the dropping of names of painters, china makers, furniture artisans and the like becomes so incessant the people nearly get lost and it ends up feeling almost like an episode of Cash in the Attic.

There is one very heated exchange and then all the characters retreat into their own corner and go about doing their own thing and finding their own way to cope. Which would not be a negative if not for two things: the film was sold as a highly combustible drama in the trailer not a subdued one but more importantly, again the nuance would be more pronounced, more delicate and easier to appreciate if not for all the name-dropping. The scenes where the maid Éloïse (Isabelle Sadoyan) come back to get her item and leave her missus flowers are rather moving.

Ultimately, it is a film worth watching. The façade of objects and materialism is quite a subjective thing. Some enjoy it for just that reason. See for yourself and decide what you think. Those who appreciate good acting will definitely enjoy the film for that time alone.

6/10