MUBI UK film review: Notturno
Ivan Radford | On 05, Mar 2021
Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Watch Notturno online in the UK: MUBI UK
After his harrowing documentary Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi returns for another movingly grounded portrait of a crisis – the conflict in the Middle East that has shattered countless lives. Filmed over three years in Iraq, Kurdistan, Lebanon and Syria, it’s a quietly heartbreaking snapshot of life on these chaos-strewn borders – a piece that, as its title (“Nocturne”) suggests, evokes the dark truth of a nighttime that hasn’t ended.
Rosi isn’t entering new territory here, with films such as Under the Wire, For Sama and A Syrian Love Story all giving us an insight into the devastating impact of the violence in Syria. Compared to a documentary such as City of Ghosts, which brings a courageous individual tale to the screen, the result here is an almost detached viewing experience, as Rosi jumps from one location to the next without delving into identifying details or other information. But Rosi understands that he doesn’t need these things, something that gives his tapestry of day-to-day existence a haunting power.
The mosaic glides smoothly from one story to the next. We see women in an abandoned prison mourn an inmate who was tortured there. We witness a young boy hunting fallen birds to support his family. We observe a couple sharing a moment on a city rooftop, framed by the glowing lights. We hear a teacher helping her pupils to deal with the world. The one thing we don’t see is the fighting itself; rather, we glimpse the consequences of those continuing to exist around it, from female fighters away from the front line to the damaged walls of cities that, like its residents, have endured.
Editor Jacopo Quadri (who also worked on Fire at Sea) works seamlessly with Rosi’s stunning compositions, stitching together a portrait that finds deafening weight in its unspoken context. Perhaps most affecting is a moment where the residents of psychiatric hospital are rehearsing a play on a stage, in what is presumably part of their therapy. We never see the final production performed – and, most chilling of all, we don’t know if anyone ever will. The result is a moving mosaic of resilience and fragility, a cycle of beautiful stillness in the eye of an ugly storm.
Notturno is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.
This review was published during the London Film Festival in October 2021.