Critics' Pick

Nocturama (NR)

Suspense/Thriller 130 min. October 13, 2017
By Melissa Anderson
Often populated with voluptuaries, the films of Bertrand Bonello unerringly distill mood and milieu. In the dread-drenched, bifurcated and bold Nocturama, the French filmmaker's seventh narrative feature, recounts roughly 14 hours -- from about 2 p.m. to 4 a.m., sharply juxtaposing the micro details of a massive attack on Paris with the vague ideology guiding the coed band of multiethnic millennial and Gen Z terrorists who carry out the assault. The film mesmerizes and alienates equally.

The first half of Nocturama plays as a taut procedural thriller, full of timestamps, Metro maps and tossed burner phones. Andre (Martin Guyot), a chief tactician of this cell, offers what appears to be the racially and economically diverse group's guiding political belief. "Civilization is a condition of the downfall of civilization." The nihilistic aphorism -- ideology as Ouroboros -- animates this ragtag cabal of children of the banlieues and the poshest neighborhoods, their mayhem and bloodshed linked, if at all, to a hazily defined anti-capitalist fury.

After the bombs go off, the kids assemble in a luxe shopping mall, where Nocturama's second half takes place. The inchoate intifadists are surrounded by brand names -- Fendi, Chanel, Bang & Olufsen, Sonia Rykiel -- high-end goods that they lustily sample. Nocturama averts exploitation and cynicism by refusing to proffer half-baked answers as to why these fictional, malevolent protagonists did what they did -- conjecturing that can often lead to extreme banalities and other obscenities committed in the name of "understanding" repugnant acts. Bonello strips the scaffolding of the film to action and reaction, emphasizing the how and the when of the tyro terrorists' plot and its consequences.
Bertrand Bonello Finnegan Oldfield, Vincent Rottiers, Hamza Meziani, Manal Issa, Martin Guyot, Jamil McCraven, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laure Valentinelli, Ilias Le Doré, Robin Goldbronn Bertrand Bonello Edouard Weil, Alice Girard Grasshopper Film

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