Notturno (2020)

Shot over three years in the Middle East, Rosi’s beautiful and graceful documentary pits the human desire for normalcy against the unending cycles of death and destruction. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,040

Dir. Gianfranco Rosi
2020 | Italy | Documentary | 100 mins | 1.85:1 | Arabic & Kurdish
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some mature themes

Plot: Shot over three years in the Middle East, on the borders between Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon, the film recounts the everyday life that lies behind the continuing tragedy of death and destruction.
Awards: Won Arca CinemaGiovani Award, Sorriso Diverso Venezia Award & UNICEF Award & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Human Condition, Violence, Conflict
Narrative Style: Straightforward – Vignette-style
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

Notturno, the latest by Gianfranco Rosi, who won the Venice Golden Lion for Sacro GRA (2013), and then the Golden Berlin Bear for Fire at Sea (2016), is a gentle and graceful take on the Middle East, a region that has been marked by strife and tumult for decades. 

His trademark observational approach continues to prove to be engaging, where still shots (often extreme wide shots) of the natural landscape are privileged, and juxtaposed with images of human activity—be it a group rehearsing for a play about freedom from oppression, or a family getting ready for bed. 

Shot over three years in locations like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Kurdistan, and edited from more than 90 hours of footage into a palatable runtime of 100 minutes, Notturno pits the human desire for normalcy and peace against the unending cycles of death and destruction. 

Rosi doesn’t quite achieve an accumulative power despite his collage of images and sounds, though some might find scenes of ordinary people going about their daily lives against the sound of distant gunfire startling. 

Notturno is not a film about war and violence, but the aftermath of living with its consequences—that’s probably why Rosi decided to title it as such, with the word meaning ‘nocturne’, or a work of art that deals with the qualities of the night, for instance, stillness, tranquillity and silence… before another day of hardship and trauma comes to light. 

But ‘notturno’ has another meaning: chamber-type music that is composed of several movements like a serenade.  Rosi’s vignette-style documentary is somewhat like that in cinematic form. 

Grade: B+



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