Work-life through a lens
A THOUSAND TIMES GOOD NIGHT ★★★ Directed by Erik Poppe. Starring Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Larry Mullen Jr. and Mads Ousdal Cert 12A, selected sites, 117mins
The frisson of the frontline: ace war photographer Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) narrowly escapes death while embedded with a female suicide bomber squad in Kabul. Never fear, she still gets the shot. Indeed, her actions hasten the detonation.
Injured, Rebecca returns home to her worried children and miffed marine biologist husband, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. (Because in the movieverse, husbands are always architects or marine biologists)
Here comes the ultimatum. The clan want Rebecca to ditch her life as a jihad paparazzo and assume parental responsibilities in their magazine-perfect house at John Hinde Junction, Ireland. She complies, leaving the plot to somersault, implausibly, toward a more action-packed rehearsal of the work versus family debate. Cue a mother and daughter jaunt to Kenya on a “humanitarian” assignment. What could possibly go wrong? Binoche, often mannered, mostly simpering, can do little to make the film’s disassociated heroine more relatable for us human viewers. There’s something of Reefer Madness in her relationship with the camera: one half expects her to turn to Nikolaj and say: “I can put down the Canon any time I want, man”.
Erik Poppe, a former photojournalist, makes gripping moments from the theme of foolhardy reportage. But in common with its central character, A Thousand Times Good Night struggles for meaning away from the frontline. A thoughtful, well-meaning script has much to say about conscience and journalistic ethics and Africa.
Too often, though, those observations sound trite and preachy within the confines of this higgelty pigglety melodrama. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is as second language-y as one might expect from a Norwegian-Irish co-production set between this island, Kenya and Afghanistan, and starring French and Danish actors.
The effect is like listening to a middling, decent charity record: we nod along with the sentiment, but we’re not entirely convinced about the tune.