1000 Times Good Night

13 Mar

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I can’t explain it—just one of those things— but I am always confusing Juliette Binoche with/and Julia Ormond. Not a consequential difficulty as both are talented actors and much loved by the camera. As of late, I am given to skimming through the vast videographies of Netflix and Amazon Prime and more often than not, finding a gem here or there that I had overlooked. Or simply had never known about. As an ambient part of this activity, I wonder if my delicate brain chemistry has changed— as I am more habitually looking for quicker payoffs from narratives — which is to say I am not reading as many novels. And I am watching more multi episode series (from House of Cards,past seasons of Justified and my new favorite , 2 seasons of Peaky Blinders)

And so, I am pleased to have come across a brilliant and subtle (if that’s a possible recipe) film 1000 Times Good Night

Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is one of the world’s top five (as proclaimed by her editor)war photojournalists, braving life endangerment to photograph horrific and tragic images in various zones of belligerence. Fueling her efforts are a deep seated anger at the extent of man’s cruelty and inhumanity which impels to her to fight for a somnambulant world’s attention via horrendous and nightmarish images. At the out set of the story Rebecca is in Kabul, recording the rituals surrounding the preparations of a female suicide bomber. She is seriously wounded and returns to Ireland and her marine biologist husband and her two young daughters— all of whom evidence some degree of trauma from Rebecca’s dangerous calling. Her husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who at one point screams at her that she smells of death, presents her with a choice— give up working in war zones or separate herself from their family. With great and understandable ambivalence she opts for her family. Although at first she turns down an offer to photograph a [safe]refugee camp in Kenya— her daughter expresses a desire to go for her to accept this assignment for a school project. With some effort Marcus is convinced that such a trip would be a beneficial bonding experience. Naturally havoc ensues.

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At any give time, on this diminishing planet,there are hostilities wherein one tribe, faction or piece of terra firma is battling another.Apparently, it has always been so and in our great beneficent modernity we are frequently given the opportunity to witness some or all of the subsequent killing fields and broken survivors.Bringing this bad news to people privileged to encounter it in the comfort of their homes or on mobile devices requires that there be people who risk life and limb to add various harrowing goings-on to the human record, sometimes called history

I have spoken with such people—brave and perhaps foolish— who travel and work in the war zones of the world—Jon Lee Anderson,* Sebastian Junger,** Anne Garrels***— I always ask them,almost as an accusation(though it is a perfectly understandable impulse), if they are thrill or adrenaline junkies. All deny it but it is hard for me to accept that is not part of the allure of far flung places.There is certainly enough evidence of the risks involved. The death of photographer Tim Hetherington.The suicide of Kevin Carter, who in 1993 brought the world the indelible image of a vulture on the ground waiting for the death of a young child.

Reportedly,Carter was , the remainder of his short life, troubled by his
‘failure’ to give aid to the subject of his photo

Vulture watching Starving Child

Vulture watching Starving Child

And yet for some people, a life away from concrete jungles and seas of transmission wires, is a life well lived.

I recall a time when a(dubious)condition, disaster fatigue, was offered as some kind of mitigation for the comfortable to pay little of no attention to suffering and depravity in some distant place (not to mention in their own back yards) Author Maaza Mengiste has written about the dilemma of getting attention for various suppurating wounds that dot the terrain of this planet

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is expected to declare that it is once again in a state of famine. The crisis has been caused by conflict between government forces and various opposition groups… The situation has been called the most rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis today, but without an image startling enough to make the headlines, it has remained invisible. The world’s gaze is being directed elsewhere, towards the devastating news emerging daily from Gaza and the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17….South Sudan is not the only African nation in crisis. There is also the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The three cases share one striking similarity: not enough attention is being paid to what’s going on…. It could also be that we have simply tired of African tragedies. If an image must grab our attention before we read an article, then perhaps we have seen enough…Photographs of violence ask us to bear witness to atrocity. Bearing witness begs us to respond. When there is nothing left to do, it is easy to fall prey to numbing helplessness and confusion…But maybe confusion and uncertainty are what we should be feeling. … capacity to bear witness and our need to protect our capacity for compassion. Perhaps there is something to be done even when the appropriate reaction feels unclear.

The war zone journalist, as represented in 1000 Times Good Night,vividly portrays the range of issues entailed in undertaking this danger filled work. Its a world any person with a moral imagination needs to be familiar with.

Jon Lee Anderson*
Sebastian Junger**
Anne Garrels***

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4 Responses to “1000 Times Good Night”

  1. Steve Lipsey March 13, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    thanks for the tip on the movie – I haven’t seen it either…and yes, those two are a treat… -S

    >

  2. Howard Dinin March 13, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

    Not to fault this eloquent post of yours, but to round out the assessment of the narrative, I think it’s important to note how the film 1000 Times Goodnight ends, and, in my viewing, it was not equivocal on the one hand, or facile in depicting the inexplicable attraction to danger of highly talented photojournalists. Rebeccah, the protagonist, returns to Kabul to round out her story about the suicide bombers, having had her first round or soul-rending images rejected by the publisher in capitulation to the U.S. DOD insisting the images depict a glamourization of terrorism (only to some perverse and twisted perception). She goes having made some peace with her family—still fearful of her safety, but respectful, if not compassionate about her compulsion to expose the world’s wrongs even at the risk to her own life.

    During the film Rebeccah explains to another character that, in her career, from the first, once the weaponry starts, in effect, she knows no fear, no disquieting feeling to keep her from her task, and is driven to shoot more and more pictures (as we see at the start, after the nearly mortal damage of the bomb allows her only, as if in a trance, to keep shooting until she blacks out). At the end of the film, which recapitulates some of the same scenes, what she witnesses, and records, yet again, now clearly has reached her affectively, not only her mind, but her heart, and in a very moving image to close the film, she crumples to the ground, her cameras strapped around her, mirroring the grieving woman not three or four steps away.

  3. Harvey I Friedson March 14, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    Robert,

    If you have not seen it, Juliette Binoche gives a remarkable performance in the excellent Israeli film Disengagement.

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