'War Photographer' by Carol Ann Duffy was always a poem that stood out to me when my English Literature teacher introduced it to me during high school. It highlights the dilemma of being the witness to suffering and chaos and being powerless to change anything at that exact moment, but having the job of bringing images back to a world, so distant and removed from such horrors. A Thousand Times Goodnight is a film that explores this theme through Rebecca (Juliette Binoche), a passionate and "angry" photojournalist who puts her own life in danger to take photographs in areas of conflict to raise awareness and to facilitate change. This inevitably puts stresses on her relationship with her marine biologist husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and two young daughters back home.
A Thousand Times Goodnight
The strong shocking opening sequence details her near death experience with a young female suicidal bomber in Kabul, who unexpectedly detonates a bomb in a village square. The film explores her return to life in Ireland where she becomes determined to quit her job to focus on her family. Through this process she learns more about her daughters. "I hope it was worth it, the picture" is something that her older daughter Steph says to her. A haunting line that rings throughout the film.
Despite her determination to quit, Rebecca manages to become convinced to go to a "conflict-free" zone in Kenya on another project, but this time with her daughter Steph. Again, she makes questionable choices which strain her relationships further. Is she a truthful messenger or simply an adrenalin junkie who is a vulture of the suffering of others? Is it worth it? Is it selfish to continue on with something so dangerous, yet she is so passionate about?
The film ends with an extremely powerful and moving scene that has strong parallels to the opening sequence. It hangs on the note of helplessness and contrasts the feelings of two mothers. Perhaps in that moment Rebecca realises what is most important.
A Thousand Times Goodnight is a moving drama that brings an honest portrayal of the emotional conflicts a working mother faces in a terrifying job by the brilliant Juliette Binoche, whilst raising questions on the ethics of war photography. The film touches you with scenes that catch your emotions unexpectedly in very contrasted worlds. The young actresses who portrayed the two daughters (Lauryn Canny as Steph and Adrianna Cramer Curtis as Lisa) deserve a special mention for a beautiful and surprisingly mature performance in a film with complex themes. One of the most intense moments in the film captures this when Steph shoots her mother with a camera.
A Thousand Times Goodnight is directed by Erik Poppe, a Norwegian filmmaker who used to work as a photographer and war correspondent. The film won the Special Grand Prix at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2013. Catch it in Australian cinemas from November 27, 2014.
"A hundred agonies in black-and-white from which his editor will pick out five or six for Sunday's supplement. The reader's eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers. From aeroplane he stares impassively at where he earns a living and they do not care. "
last stanza from War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy