Under the Radar: Bertrand Bonello’s “Nocturama”


nocturamaunderradarGrasshopper Films

Nocturama was resting below even my radar for a almost a year, having played Toronto last September and then also this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema series in New York (which I completely skipped).

Maybe it’s because I just wasn’t a fan of director Bertrand Bonello’s previous movie, Saint Laurent, but also, I’m really not that big on French movies in general, with a few exceptions. Not that I’m going to go into a long rant explaining why, but I’m also not alone in that sentiment, because if French films were more popular in the States, they’d probably do better at the box office than they normally do.

What got my attention about Nocturama was that it was going to be playing at my local theater, the Metrograph, and because of that, any time I would go there to see a movie, this trailer would play in front of just about every single movie I saw.

Just to get some idea how intriguing and enticing this trailer is, you can watch it below… and now imagine watching it six, seven, eight times or more within the course of a couple weeks. You watch it and think, “What on earth is this movie about except for a bunch of pretty French kids hanging out in a department store? More importantly, why should I care?”

Bonello has certainly made a very interesting addition to his filmography with a movie that falls somewhere between Larry Clark’s Kids and Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, for lack of better comparisons. That’s because that group of kids —and this isn’t a spoiler because it’s the actual plot of the movie — have joined together to set a series of bombs around France. They’re not trying to injure or kill anyone, but trying to make a statement about….  well, that’s not necessarily clear, because they never actually talk about it.

No, the movie begins with a number of these kids leaving the subway with no introductions,  then we follow them around Paris as they prepare for a revolutionary act, which we still won’t know what it is for some time. Afterwards, they all converge on a department store that’s shut down and abandoned for the night where they party, talk about stuff and basically have a free for all, until their presence is discovered.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot since I don’t want to spoil things,  but it’s an amazingly ballsy move by a French filmmaker to make a movie about this subject, so soon after the various terrorist acts that have plagued Paris as of late.

Even more of what makes Nocturama so impactful on the viewer  is how Bonello tells this story, which is by using as little dialogue as possible and never spelling everything out for the viewer. He plays around with non-linear storytelling by showing the same events from different points of view using different timelines. Things do eventually start making more sense as it goes along, but it does require a good amount of concentration.

The young cast Bonello has put together — none of whom I knew beforehand – do an amazing creating these characters and reacting to one another, but I definitely had a few favorites amongst them. When I watched the movie a second time, I felt differently about some of those characters I liked the first time.

More impressive is the tone Bonello creates with the music and camerawork, using the locations to make you more invested in what you’re watching. There are scenes that are as gorgeous as anything in Stanley Kubrick’s finest work, but Bonello also uses music to really enhance every scene. The music is sparse but when you get to the department story, you get everything from Blondie to some amazing synth-based compositions done by Bonello himself.

At times, Nocturama may seem slow, but as I mentioned above, it has quite a bit of replay value and rewatching it allows you to see things in a different context.

If you had a chance to see Mia Hansen-Løve’s film Eden a few years back, that was an inside look at the French underground DJ scene.  Nocturama is like “Eden for terrorists” and man, it’s as thought-provoking a movie as you can get.

Nocturama  is currently playing in New York at the Metrograph and Society of Lincoln Center, and one expects Grasshopper Films to release it to other cities soon.

| East Coast Editor

Under the Radar is a weekly column focusing on one or two movies that you may have missed or wouldn’t have heard much about since they have limited marketing budgets. These aren’t reviews per se and they won’t always be about movies I necessarily like — just movies that you should know about and any social implications they might have that might make them worthwhile viewing.


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