15th October 2020 8.30pm at BFI Player
Notturno is probably Gianfranco Rosi’s most ambitious tapestry to date. Like his acclaimed 2016 documentary Fire at Sea, it stitches together scenes of everyday life amidst a backdrop of devastation, but whilst his previous work focussed in on a smaller migrant community, here the director weaves a more complex path between the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon.
Each individual strand is eloquently expressed without an overarching voiceover, snippets of stories framed by the perfect placement of the camera, immersive soundscapes and a patient yet persistent pace. In one sequence, a fisherman paddles through the reeds, silhouetted by the setting sun; later, the same waterways reflect a similar orange hue, this time under the glow of flares. In another shot, a young couple smoke sheesha, the bubbling of the pipe echoing the sound of gunfire in the distance. Women pray to the walls of a deserted prison where their sons were tortured and killed as if the room might bear their memories.
However, the breadth of the piece and the disparity of the subjects sometimes stretches the thread a little thin. Each of these scenes is born from unique tragedy, yet it almost feels as though we ourselves are getting lost in an undefined border territory. Perhaps this blurring is the point, but it’s during more personal moments that the film truly shines. The most powerful segment shows Yazidi refugee children explaining the pictures they have drawn of their past: graphic drawings of bloody beheadings, death and despair at the hands of Isis. The images are harrowing; they grate more than any other because they are an intimate illustration of childhood being torn apart. This loss of innocence is the most pertinent in the documentary, with depictions of boys hauling in nets, wandering highways and cleaning gun barrels.
Indeed, in Rosi’s work, the labour of the young is more visceral than the portrayal of those fighting on the front line. We see the army not embroiled in battled but off-duty: a female unit huddle around a heater; two soldiers joke about the shortfalls of manning a tank. They are beautiful, bleak snapshots of an indefinite conflict in which violence has bled into everyday existence.
Notturno is a sensitive study into the liminal lives of Middle-Eastern border communities in which individual cultures come dangerously close to converging. Nonetheless, this piece is so immaculately composed that you may have to remind yourself that this nightmare is in fact a reality – and that, in itself, is one powerful wake-up call.
Notturno does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Notturno here: