March 04, 2021
Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary depicts a Middle East emerging from trauma, but it is self-conscious at times
Notturno review – lives scarred by Isis and the west in haunting cine-poem
Documentary film-maker Gianfranco Rosi has created a very characteristic cine-poem of sadness, about the Middle East as it emerges from ISIS terror, but remaining scarred by the intervention of western powers who had promised so much. It’s an intensely considered curation of scenes: glimpses, perhaps, into a collective mind or soul. Rosi has assembled this from years of filming in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. It’s similar in its observational procedures to films such as Sacro GRA, his 2013 study of those who live on the periphery of Rome, near the “GRA” ring road, and also his masterly fire at Sea from 2016, about the lives of desperate migrants who arrive in Lampedusa, Sicily, and the locals who are coming to terms with them.The title means “night” or “of the night”, and many scenes seem to be happening at nightfall (or possibly at daybreak), particularly the opening, extended sequence of soldiers drilling, jogging around in a circle. There are many striking moments and beautifully realised images and vignettes here, a rhetorical structure that is perhaps inspired by the play that, in one scene, psychiatric patients are shown rehearsing about the lives of people in Iraq. But I worried a little that Rosi’s techniques are becoming a self-conscious mannerism, and furthermore that the film is a little too diffuse, taking in four different places and effectively homogenising them.
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