Nocturama is a hard proposition to sell, but here goes nothing: the largely wordless, poetic (read: slow) film follows a group of young radicals who conduct a series of terror attacks across Paris. They blow up a government building; destroy an office tower; and set a statue of France’s bonafide patron saint Joan of Arc on fire, all with the distinctly casual, unconcerned air that one might give off when taking out the rubbish, or disposing of junk mail.
But the film isn’t really about terrorism. It’s not really about anything, in particular, which maybe makes it sound aimless, or vapid. It’s not that. Nocturama is merely a deliberately blank slate – a film that one can project upon, art as vague as a Rorscach test. As a result, there will be those who embrace it as a Terrence Malick inspired mood piece; those who see it as a character study of Bret Easton Ellis-style disaffected youth; and those who run from the thing a fucking mile.
It’s certainly not easy to love. The film’s real action is done and dusted within the first act – the seeds of their anarchy sown, the group of young terrorists spend the rest of Nocturama hiding out in a shopping mall, traipsing around the deserted space like the resurrected corpses of George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. They have no real character development to speak of: David (Finnegan Oldfield), the de facto leader of the group, is as hard-to-read and emotionless as a gold mask donned in the film’s final third. He’s a sleepwalker, not a radical; a young man who shuffles through life as though 90 years old.
And yet, despite all that makes Nocturama a hard sell, the significant gap between the film’s form and function gives it an odd beauty of its own. This is a film about one of our greatest contemporary fears – terrorism – that is shot in a way seemingly custom designed to send one to sleep; a story ripped straight from the most lurid of headlines and watered down to a thick, soupy paste.
Writer-director Bertrand Bonello is a renowned provocateur – his film The Pornographer is stuffed with some of the most hardcore sex imaginable, and House Of Tolerance, his de facto masterpiece, more than occasionally stumbles over the line separating good and bad taste. But with Nocturama, he has approached the controversial in a fresh new way – not by sensationalising it, but by carefully and quietly underplaying it. Nocturama is the very definition of a film not everyone will enjoy, but for the committed, it is full of pleasures indeed.
Nocturama is available on Netflix now. For more film reviews, check out our thoughts on the extraordinarily awful The BBQ, here.