By Colleen Rowe
Photo taken from the official Stony Brook Film Festival website: http://stonybrookfilmfestival.com/fest14/schedule-1.html
A collective, expressive sigh narrates the audience’s horror as a Middle Eastern Woman is strapped with explosives in one of the first scenes of Erik Poppe’s feature film, 1,000 Times Good Night. Female protagonist, Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) pauses in unison with these outside sound effects produced by viewers, her camera slightly tilted and her eyes expressing an incomprehensible emotion—variations of worry, pain, and, quite possibly, an unannounced interest. Why Rebecca did not attempt to stop this suicide bomber from completing her mission is unclear, but a few suggestions revolve around the easily assumed idea that she did not want to be killed by the terrorist group who organized this mission. There is a subtle, fleeting thought throbbing in one’s head that she could be perceived as a terrorist herself for not stopping the event prior to its occurrence—but, would her interference have really counted in the grand scheme?
Her redemption is her camera, the direct means of her photojournalism that would provide proof that such events actually occurred. With this evidence, a more powerful military force would interfere and save future intended victims. Here, where Rebecca holds a backstage pass to a terrorist mission, arises one of the main themes of 1,000 Times Good Night: How far will someone go to obtain the evidence of a controversial story—will she go so far as to almost be blown up? Repeatedly, this concept is demonstrated throughout the duration of the film through Rebecca’s interaction with her daughters, particularly Steph (Lauryn Canny), and husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
The film is initially misleading—viewers have this idea that the train of events will follow the various photojournalism foreign conflict missions that Rebecca is assigned, but after she suffers an unfortunate injury, the film is shot in her very safe home environment. Regardless of this opposite, seemingly uneventful main setting, we follow her life as if we are a part of it—imagining her tattered, worn traveling-wear that Marcus comments on, from which she smells the dirt and fear from the victims she photographs. Her husband’s distaste for her dangerous career choices along with Rebecca’s feigned, desired carefulness not to frighten her daughters with the possibility of her death become more potent obstacles that she must face. What choice is she to make—a life of criticism by disappointed loved ones on the home front or a physically dangerous, life threatening career of photojournalism in conflict areas? Viewers would be surprised which lifestyle is more difficult to pursue.
A film not shy to portray scenes of mass murder by foreign terrorists in a conflict crisis setting, the different locations are essential to the portrayal of the idea that who we are in the workplace is not who we are at home, and likewise, who we are at home really affects our work in a “professional” environment—even if that environment is pushing us to run for our lives. Photojournalism and violence aside, it is Rebecca’s attitude that is the real shock factor while viewing 1,000 Times Good Night—suggested by her husband: is there ever really a final shot? Her inability to perceive danger as DANGER pierces the audience’s eyes like a rogue bullet and, suddenly—we’re all blind with fury. Why didn’t she leave when the firing commenced? Is a picture worth her life? Such perspectives filtered into an audience’s emotional range boasts controversial filmmaking.
Within the depths of family and international conflict, there’s a simpler story and it’s found on the beach that is in close proximity to Rebecca’s house. She often runs, presumably, from an obvious perspective, to stay physically fit, but there is also a very apparent metaphor presented: that she is running from the problems that consume her daily life (a lone runner, classic metaphor portrayed in film and media). In the few minutes where sadness alludes them, Rebecca and Marcus share these beautifully crafted frames where they are laughing, pushing each other into the water—the bright sunset-inspired lighting inviting—no, intoxicating. We run from our problems and attempt to shield them with our sweat, but sometimes they end up finding us and kissing us forcibly on the lips.
Toward the end, after Rebecca’s fears of frightening and disappointing her daughter come true, a riveting, gripping, completely devastating scene takes its place in her car as Steph tells her it might be better if Rebecca died, a statement that she later rescinds. Upon hearing this, Rebecca slowly starts to tear, the close up of her facial features immediate. Her daughter then rapidly starts to take unyielding shots from Rebecca’s camera, paralleling her mother’s common action to take photos of heartbreaking conflict depicting the emotional turmoil of her subjects. It is a silent, rhetorical question asking, how do you like it, mom? This scene could arguably be considered climactic in the plotline.
Ultimately, we feel for all major characters involved in this film, including Rebecca—she is obviously torn between reporting social injustices and pleasing her family, but as the film winds down we are left with this simple realization, verbally portrayed by Steph, that someone MUST do this job. People do, every day, risking their lives for a cause—blatant activism shielded by press motives. Some die, but the ones who live to tell, or rather, show the tale leave us with ideas to promote the enforcement of peaceful change.
Not yellow journalism, I’ll call it “red,” [photojournalism] like the blood from the victims it captures and portrays, bright with yielding tone and explicitly effective in defining a necessary cause.