NOCTURAMA (2017?, Bertrand Bonello)
No American release date as of yet, that I know of, but I’m assuming it’ll likely come out in 2017. It’s been on the festival circuit all season, though, and it’s worth reviewing now in case you have the chance to see it at your local fest.
Bonello’s HOUSE OF TOLERANCE, the only other film of his I’m familiar with, is elegantly directed but didn’t prepare me for the intensity of this project — a suspenseful, direct, and achingly humanistic portrait of lost youth finding their aim in domestic terrorism. There’s very little dialogue, just enough to establish character. The rest of the story is told through action and editing, and it’s hard to find any fault in either. We’re given very little background on any of the gang (they seem to be mostly in their late teens, but who knows why they’re compelled to commit this heinous act) and it doesn’t bother me at all that Bonello shows little interest in the reasons for their behavior.
What matters is that they do it, and the mindsets that lead kids to this action exist all around us. One character in a key moment begs for help, and it’s a plea that extends well beyond the scene to a generation at large. The state responsible for helping them shows no mercy, and perhaps there’s a good reason for that too. Bonello avoids being too heavy-handed; this is a movie about a thing that happens, and there’s an ability to understand that each side’s reaction to it makes sense. The plan isn’t clean — neither execution nor getaway/hideout — and yet there’s enough intelligence around some of it to let us know these youths aren’t morons. They’re adrift, angry, and immature.
That they do hide out in a large department store says a lot, and it’s sort of the flip side of seeing zombies take over a mall in George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. You can’t escape the juxtaposition of chic, upscale materialism with despondent soldiers of political unrest. (The addition of two homeless characters late in the film underscores this quite directly). When one outgoing character dresses in drag and makeup to perform a soulful lip-synch performance of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” (the Paul Anka version), Bonello stops the film cold to observe the young man in his artistic assertion of individuality and identity. Another character freezes when he sees a mannequin dressed exactly like himself. And in one of my favorite moments, a young woman ignores a clownish music video blaring on her TV in order to pry open the windows of her room to hear the world racing by outside.
Stylistically, Bonello rips off Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” a little bit, showing the same interactions throughout the day from various characters’ perspectives, allowing the movie to replay an incident over and over. But in one terrific shot, the camera settles on a quad-split monitor of security cameras, showing action in all four corners and letting things go in and out without moving or cutting. It’s a nifty feat, but the strength of this film isn’t in its style — it’s in the storytelling, which respects its audience enough not to provide too much backstory, not to over-explain, and just present a situation that feels both inevitable and devastating.