Work-life through a lens

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY

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.

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