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A Thousand Times Goodnight – Review
May 1, 2014
From Norwegian film director Erik Poppe, A Thousand Times Goodnight chronicles the relationship of a family whose lives are constantly fraught by the absence of one, caught in dangerous warzones and never sure whether she will make it home alive. Refreshingly though, Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is not a soldier – not the kind who kills anyone anyway. She is a committed war photographer who, after being involved in a terrorist bombing, is left in the hospital and awakes to the rugged face of her husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones). Understandably, he has become increasingly concerned about the danger that Rebecca puts herself in every day and the strain it puts on their family, with two young daughters at home worried about their mother. As Rebecca temporarily returns home and Marcus threatens to leave her, she must make the difficult decision about whether to carry on her perilous career or stay at home, safe with her loved ones.
One of the most compelling aspects of this film is the intimacy of Rebecca’s relationships in particular with Marcus and with her eldest daughter, Steph. Little history is given of the relationship with Marcus, although it is clear that the two are still very much in love and that it pains him dearly to be apart from her and to worry for her life every day. It is even more complicated with Steph. She is at a time in her life when she is too old to come running to hug the mother who is so often away from her, as her younger sister is – too proud to show how much she is hurting. But she is interested in what it is that pulls her mother away. When Steph comes to Rebecca for a school project and takes a short trip to Kenya with her, she begins to understand why it is that her mother simply can’t stop her addiction. She begins to understand her searing anger at the state of the world – the conflict and killing – that keeps her mother going back time after time.
One of the ingenious things about this film is how it portrays documenting conflict and how it makes the viewer just as angry as Rebecca says she is. We see both sides of the coin, as at first, when she is merely standing by and photographing the horror, I found myself wanting to scream at her to stop it somehow. But by the end when she does want to stop it, I want to scream at her to pick up her camera – to show the horror she sees to the world. Yet Marcus sees a little further than this – he sees that Rebecca’s obsession with documenting violence and being in the middle of it all is not only for the greater good. She loves the danger. Rebecca has clearly had an incredibly successful career, certainly one to be proud of, which leaves one asking: are there deep-seated self-destructive tendencies pushing her on? It does seem like a factor, but the real dilemma truly seems to be the choice between her passion and her family. It’s the ultimate ultimatum and the audience finds themselves genuinely not knowing which is the right choice for her.
With fantastic performances all round, this tale offers up just about everything: gripping war-scenes, subtle tensions and heartfelt moments of clarity for the characters. The brief glimpses of the brilliantly eye-catching Irish countryside show us the cosy alternative Rebecca has waiting at home, while the raw scenes of violence make it clear that she is out there for a reason. A great contribution to the aesthetic is John Christian Rosenlund’s cinematography, which beautifully contrasts the harsh earthy warzones with the sleepy Irish nights. A truly fantastic watch.
A Thousand Times Goodnight is released in UK cinemas on May 2nd