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VENICE 2020 Competition

Review: Notturno

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- VENICE 2020: The most meticulous of cinematic artists, Gianfranco Rosi, takes an intricate, compassionate and poetic look at daily life along the Middle Eastern front line

Review: Notturno

Whenever Gianfranco Rosi finally feels ready to present new work, the top festivals will line up to put him in the most prestigious programme category – which usually pays off quite well. Following his 2016 Berlin Golden Bear winner Fire at Sea [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
film profile
]
, he now returns to the competition section of the Venice International Film Festival, where he won a Golden Lion in 2013 for Sacro GRA [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
film profile
]
. Three years in the making, his new venture is entitled Notturno [+see also:
trailer
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
film profile
]
.

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Billed as “a film of light on the darkness of war”, Notturno is shot along the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon, and in the flickering gleam of seemingly ever-ongoing conflict, be it civil, foreign or instigated by terrorists. Through meticulously assembled vignettes, Rosi has composed a compassionate picture of daily life along the front line, giving face and voice to those waking up to yet another day in this troubled corner of the world. Most of them have met the horrors either at first or second hand. A group of elderly women go into a mournful dirge, grieving for the sons who were killed. Children, former ISIS prisoners, recount their experiences through drawings, which are then shown pinned up on a large classroom board (seeing these childlike doodles depicting such gruesome acts may haunt the viewer for some time). Patients in a psychiatric hospital prepare a therapeutic stage performance about the senselessness of various politics. A young couple on a roof wish for rain and enjoy a hookah (whose gurgling noise blends into a sound montage incorporating the blasts heard in the distance). A bird hunter’s rifle goes off and produces a strange echo that turns out to be gunfire of an entirely different sort. Such intricate images form an experience that, more often than not, feels like a poem, more so than in the previous cinema of Gianfranco Rosi (in one scene, not unlike Fellini in La Strada, he has a horse standing in the middle of a city street – we don’t quite know why it’s there, but it’s quite glorious).

Further evidence of this lyricism is provided by the fact that Notturno plays out as simply one single day in this particular life, always alongside, but never immersed in, the actual fighting. The experience is not an immediate one (a few explanatory lines are given at the very start, after which we’re on our own), but ever so quietly, the voices and faces gain clarity. Big questions are quietly raised, and small but poignant encounters grow on us, meandering through our minds and senses, reverberating long after the lights go out.

Notturno is an Italian-German-French production staged by Stemal Entertainment, 21Uno Film, RAI Cinema and Istituto Luce Cinecittà. It was co-produced by Les Films d'Ici, No Nation Films and Mizzi Stock Entertainment, and the world sales are handled by The Match Factory.

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