Nocturama (2016)

Bonello’s work about French homegrown terrorism is quite sensational in its thematic provocations and play with cinematic language. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Bertrand Bonello
2016 | France | Drama/Thriller | 130 mins | 2.35:1 | French
NC16 (Netflix) for some violence and mature theme

Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Vincent Rottiers, Hamza Meziani 
Plot: Some young folks, tired of the society they’re living in, plan a bomb attack over Paris before taking shelter for a night in a shopping center.
Awards: Nom. for Platform Prize (Toronto)
International Sales: Wild Bunch

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Bertrand Bonello is one of France’s most interesting filmmakers working today, and his Nocturama is further proof of his talent. 

Rejected by the Cannes Film Festival because of the heightened sensitivities caused by the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, Bonello’s work here is quite sensational in its engagement with thematic provocations, most conspicuously that of homegrown terrorism. 

A group of disenfranchised youth see that the only way out of their frustrating and meaningless modern existence is by planning a series of bombings to happen at the same time at different parts of their city, creating widespread chaos and fear.  Things will not be the same again, they hope. 

Like an intricate heist, the first third of the film sees them in operation as they enact their devious plan; the film then changes location to a closed shopping mall where the young terrorists hide themselves for the night. 

Nocturama essentially is a play of two disparate spaces—one external and social, the other claustrophobic and consumerist. 

Bonello also plays with cinematic language such as montage and parallel editing to emphasise on the nature of time—the long, listless waits, as well as the short, sharp bursts of life-and-death scenarios in both spaces, some of which are repeated for effect. 

Nocturama asks deep questions about our consumerist society, where the mall is the refuge for everyone, and literally so for these young terrorists who are every bit like us— be it being dazzled by the latest TVs or raring to try on new fashionable clothes. 

While we can’t (or shouldn’t) sympathise with these youth, Bonello poses an even more provocative question as the film reaches its cruel finale: can justice be truly served without violence?

Grade: A-



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