Nikolaj Coster-Waldau i Tusen ganger god natt

It requires a subtle sort of acting to pull off the complex dynamic between the husband and wife at the center of the new film 1,000 Times Goodnight. But Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Juliette Binoche rise to the task, riveting the film with performances that allow silence to speak volumes and outbursts to inform their profound baggage of unresolved issues. Binoche plays Rebecca, a war photographer motivated by a righteousness that leaves little room for her family, which also includes two daughters. Coster-Waldau is the weary father and husband, Marcus, reluctantly supporting her choice of career. His concerns for her safety and her perfunctory performance as a mother is upended when she barely survives a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that she was chronicling for the “New York Times.”

I spoke with Coster-Waldau via phone, while he was on break from shooting Season Five of “Game of Thrones” (he plays the “Kingslayer” Jaime Lannister) in Seville, Spain. For a 15-minute chat we had a chance to go pretty deep, so this article actually expands on an article I wrote for the art and culture blog “Cultist” operated by the “Miami New Times,” which you can read by jumping through the blog’s logo below:

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I was offered to ask him one “Game of Thrones” question, but what I really wanted to do was go deep into how he made this relationship so real and sympathetic. Between the director’s restrained tone, which allows the actors to say more about their feelings when they are not talking, and the dynamic performances, the carefully constructed dramatic arc of the film is an analysis of a relationship held together by fraying threads. When I asked the Danish actor about how he approached Marcus’ feelings for his wife, he notes a Catch 22 in their relationship. “I think they stopped, a long time ago, to communicate about the things that are the most important to them,” he says of Rebecca and Marcus, “and then, with her, it’s easier not to talk about what she’s doing, where she’s going, what the job was that day. It’s easier for him not to hear about it because it would make him more worried maybe. But it’s also, I think, at the very core of why they no longer can be together because they’ve lost the ability to be a couple, to communicate and all that.”

The film is actually based on the real life experiences of the film’s director, Erik Poppe. What is interesting about what he does with this movie is that he only presents a couple of intense scenes of action involving Rebecca, which inevitably resonate back home. Though both moments are adrenaline-fueled scenes of compelling action, Poppe is more interested on the effects of those instances of violence and trauma on the family of the photographer. In his director’s statement, he admits that, during his own chronicling of war zones, his relationship suffered. “I had a strong relationship with the woman whom I shared my life with, but it couldn’t sustain the choices I’d made,” he says.

This marks the most personal film by the Norwegian director, and he was quite open with the cast about that. Coster-Waldau says though the scenarios were up-dated for today’s headlines (Poppe was in Cambodia in the early ‘80s, among other places), the repercussions of Poppe’s career choice, including a zealous righteousness to affect some good in conflict zones for the innocents, had vivid effects back home. “He’s had to deal with those exact conflicts with his wife, where he would be in these situations where he could die and wouldn’t be able to call home for weeks, and it takes a toll,” states the actor. “It’s really tough on the people who are left behind, and sometimes you’re so driven and you’re so focused that you kind of forget. You forget, or you kind of push it aside because you have to.”

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That passion and focus, a sort of entrance to a zone that calls for a vision sometimes blinded by an intensity for the work that excludes the family, can be quite traumatic to those outside that area of ego. Back to Poppe’s director’s statement, he even says, “my ego was bigger than my love [for my wife].”

Binoche channels that potently in her character. In one scene, Marcus confronts her about her work and she reacts as if she was caught in an infidelity. “She’s also quite passionate. She can’t help herself,” notes Coster-Waldau. “Yes, there’s the whole — which is very important — that she wants to make the world aware of these horrendous things that go on in these horrible places. There is also that thing that happens that it’s really her passion. It’s those moments when she’s doing her job that she can lose herself a hundred percent because she’s quite good at that, and in a way that’s what she does, she gets in there and she gets the shot. When she removes that part of herself, she removes part of the essence of who she is. Clearly, it’s worth it. It’s worth it that she got it out, and she took these pictures that no one else would take, and it has positive change for these kids or these families or refugees, but at the same time there is also negative consequences for not only her own relationships with her family but also for her kids. They suffer, and if that worked objectively, you’d say, yes, it’s for the better, but for those two kids and her husband, it’s not.”

The emotional struggle this brings to the family is quite vivid in 1,000 Times Good Night. For Coster-Waldau, the feelings do not seem foreign to him. He speaks with an enlightened wisdom that comes from his own experience as a family man who must balance his own passions outside of his personal life. “He loves his wife,” he notes about Marcus’ struggle to compete with her calling. “What happens early on in the movie, of course, when she gets into the explosion, is that suddenly that thing happened that he’s been living with, and that he just accepted and wanted to ignore, and of course this is a movie, so of course it’s life and death, but I think that it happens in many relationships where you change, and people change, and we don’t necessarily change together, and we change in different directions.”

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Though he is but an actor, Coster-Waldau knows some of the difficulties that arise at home when he focuses on his work, which also includes being away from his family for some time, and he brought that to his role as Marcus. “It’s all those discussions, all those conflicts that were interesting to talk about,” he says, “and then, of course, in my own life, because I also have two daughters myself. I am the one who travels most of the year doing what I do … and I could use those discussions we’ve had in this movie. In this case, in the movie, I’m the guy who’s left behind, so it was interesting.”

Again, Coster-Waldau brings up personal experience in relation to the film. “I’m a father myself,” he adds. “I have two daughters, and there’s something about that whole discussion of what does it mean to be a parent. A good parent is not necessarily a woman or a man, and can a father be as good? You would think it’s an obvious thing, but I think that a mother is more of a parent than a father in some ways, and I think I like to explore that because that’s something that’s very much a part of my life, being a father.”

Hans Morgenstern

1,000 Times Good Night runs 117 minutes and is not rated (contains violence and language). It opens in South Florida this Friday at the Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables and the Tower Theater in Miami. It’s opening across the U.S. right now. To see other play dates across the nation, visit this link.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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I tend to avoid the rubbish Hollywood produces to sell the popcorn and its over-priced 3D premium upgrades, so you won’t find well-known crap like Terminator Genisys and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 on this list. I try to seek out films that at least appear to have potential to be good and/or are well-reviewed. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t get suckered into some disappointments.

Among the Hollywood films I had higher hopes for in 2015 were TrainwreckAmy Schumer’s big screen debut as not only a lead but a screenwriter. I found the movie to be forced and not as funny as it was hyped to be. The editing was particularly terrible, revealing sentimentality for improvised lines over an interest in consistent storytelling. Then it all ended in typical precious Hollywood sincerity. There was also too much made over The Danish Girl, which sealed my judgement with an idiotically romanticized scene of closure with a fucking flying scarf and the words “Let it fly!”

These are all the easy targets, however. My disappointments include well-respected directors, indie darlings and several screenings at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival. To be fair with MIFF, a festival of about 200 films, it can only be as good as the films you can actually see during the festival’s week and a half run. I was also on a jury where I was assigned movies to watch. It’s also not really fair to single out some of the weaker movies that somehow made it into the program. Some are obscurities that will never get U.S. distribution yet offer distinct voices for the countries that produced them. So I won’t note some particularly disappointing experiences from Venezuela and Spain.

That said, I do feel obliged to single out a couple of titles. Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier returned to the fest with the obnoxiously preposterous A Second Chance. It’s a ludicrous film featuring the talented actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays a police detective pulling “the old switcheroo” with a baby he finds in a drug addicted couple’s filthy home and the body of his and wife’s dead infant. Then there was the festival’s big award winner, Las oscuras primaveras (Obscure Spring). I had high hopes for this Mexican film, but it turned out to be utterly contrived and overly serious. I was surprised to see the jury fall for it. You can read my review in the Miami New Times here. And I was glad to find The Hollywood Reporter’s film critic prove that I did not stand alone in my complaints: read Jonathan Holland’s review here.

Still, these were not the worst films I saw in 2015. Here in ranked order, are the biggest disappointments for this writer in 2015:

5. Z for Zachariah

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The pedigree was right for this one. Director Craig Zobel, whose previous movie I admired (Compliance reveals horrific dimensions of social behavior – a film review), had three fine actors at his disposal. Unfortunately, the original story by Robert C. O’Brien was changed so much that it not only lost its relevance but lost its sense.

Read my review: Z For Zachariah can’t overcome shortcomings to live up to its concepts — a film review

4. The Hateful Eight

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I’ve loved so many films by Quentin Tarantino. Though I was generally positive about Django Unchained (Film review: ‘Django Unchained’ celebrates myth and history with humor and horror), for the first time I had some serious issues with a Tarantino movie. My main problem was that it could have used some editing. But here is the monstrosity that results in terrible self-indulgence: The Hateful Eight.

Read my review: The Hateful Eight is just a tiresome exercise in drawing out mean caricatures of annoying people — a film review

3. Sicario

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Canadian director Denis Villeneuve always shows so much great potential in his movies. So far all of them have succumbed to fundamental flaws in story-telling. You have to look beyond his film’s often stellar cinematography, but once you do, you will understand that his scripts are plagued with terrible issues. Sicario tries to say something deep but can only help but scratch at a surface that only reveals ignorance and ends with a mere tasteless stretch of Hollywood closure with a climax that caves to its own evils.

Read my review with Ana Morgenstern: Sicario romanticizes revenge in gritty Hollywood take on US/Mexican drug war — a film review

2 and 1. Love and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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These two are so close to call because both made me want to walk out. Both are also stories of young people stumbling with an affection for the opposite sex who fall short for their own egos. Both directors take themselves so damn seriously that all they reveal is their own annoying self-importance. Both filmmakers have growing up to do before they can cast backward glances at growing up and avoiding so much overwrought, self-indulgent cinema.

Read my reviews:

Love is flawed in almost every cinematic way possible — a film review

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl reduces friendship and death to sentiment and tokenism — A film review

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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Depending on the movie, the word “preposterous” could either prop up a narrative or allow it to collapse. I saw two rather preposterous movies at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival yesterday. One was absurd in many bad ways, the other in mostly good ways. I’m talking about Susanne Bier’s new film, A Second Chance and the second feature by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, a horror/romance called Spring (pictured above).

It’s utterly silly not to address the problems of A Second Chance, which had its U.S. premiere at the fest, without bringing up plot spoilers, so skip this if you do not want know how Bier and writer Anders Thomas Jensen stumble with their return to filmmaking in their native Denmark after winning the foreign language Oscar for the much more compelling, if flawed film In a Better World (2010). The stumble, however, is epic, so if train wrecks are your thing, here you go: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays a cop and new father who makes one of the most ridiculous decisions you could imagine a law enforcement officer doing: he kidnaps an infant from a couple of junkies who seem to have no idea how to change a diaper. Even more insane:  He tries to pull a fast one by leaving behind the body of his and his wife’s baby, who has died in his crib. At least he has the wits to swap clothes, including soiled diaper.

This film is gruesome, and the issues are manifold. The film does not only defy logic and rationale, it’s just a sloppy idea that makes you wonder what kind of well-meaning father is OK with leaving the corpse of his baby in a drug den to bring back a surrogate that maybe kinda looks like his former son? The film sets this man up as a happy new father who is sickened when he first responds to the destitute couple’s apartment, to find this baby in a closet (with an ear-shattering music sting). All of this happens very early in the film, and with music, close-ups, tone and pacing, you can almost anticipate what is going to happen but thinking, no way the filmmakers would go to there, but they do. Over-the-top and mishandled, A Second Chance ha plenty more to offer in ludicrous story developments driven by convenient plot twists that never ring with any convincing sense of honesty for its characters.

Trying to tell a convincing story in reality is one thing, but when you enter the supernatural world, filmmakers have some license to break the rules. In their Florida premiere film, Spring, Benson (also the film’s writer) and Moorhead (also the film’s cinematographer) still need a bit of convincing to do about some of the details but generally pull off a fine bit of genre entertainment. In their film, a young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) goes to Italy to get over the loss of his mother and falls in love with a beautiful woman (Nadia Hilker) struggling with a mysterious disease that literally turns her into a monster.

Moorhead does wonderful work as cinematographer, from drone work capturing the seaside Italian village where our hero decides to settle for a nice amount of time, taking up farm work for lodging. The effects are a balanced mixture of digital and old school animatronics, lighting and makeup. The digital leaps are always harder to swallow than the visceral moments that owe so much to horror greats like Rick Baker. The film stumbles a bit in the connection between the couple, as nothing between them points to a strong romantic bond, despite an attempt in imitating Richard Linklater’s chemistry between a U.S. tourist and local from his “Before” series of movies. Still, there’s a brisk balance of humor and pathos that permeates the script, even if it lingers too long on the journey to get to the village where most of the film’s interesting developments unfold. Drafthouse Films recently picked up this movie, so many will have a chance to see it for themselves, and it’s worth looking out for.

This day also featured the international premiere of The Pilgrim: The Best Story of Paulo Coelho. I previewed it ahead of this interview. Now will be a good time to share an opinion. It follows the story of famed Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist). As appropriate to the author, the film offers an almost mystical journey of self-discovery for the author, from his suicide attempt as a teen (Ravel Andrade) to his more raucous years as a young man (Júlio Andrade) experimenting with black magic, rock ‘n’ roll and ufology before a trip on the Camino de Santiago inspired his world-famous book.

It’s a big subject for first-time feature filmmaker Daniel Augusto to take on. His previous experience is in documentaries, and his approach is the bold, all-encompassing biopic. The film skips between modern times and a transparently made-up Andrade to look like the aged, living writer to his younger self and an even younger version played by the actor’s little brother in his feature debut. There some heavy-handed narrative moments, some of it bloated with the weight of the mysticism Coelho fans might easily be swept away in. The film is heavy on sentiment but unfortunately superficial and uninvested in character development. Augusto and his first-time feature screenplay writer (Carolina Kotscho) lean to much on fact but forget humanity in a story that should be filled with it.

I’m hoping today, the first day as a juror for the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriter Award, will bring the strongest writing the festival has to offer. We will also look to catch Voice Over, by the director of this terrific film. It will have it’s U.S. premiere at the festival simultaneously presented as part of the Film Comment Selects series in New York City. Here’s the trailer:

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

posterMexican DJ turned filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu has so far made a name for himself as a director of weighty films with bleakly serious subjects in search of transcendence. Ever since his Spanish-language debut Amores perros, his 1999 Oscar-nominated film that had Hollywood knocking, it has been an uphill battle for the director to achieve the same level of respect. It seems what he needed was a tonal shift. The black comedy of his fifth feature film, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is that shift, as it sends up virtually every aspect of the entertainment industry with dark humor on a meta level. Though Iñárritu has often reached too hard to make big statements, Birdman feels breezy by comparison and still achieves the resonant kind of statement fitting of his aesthetic.

Michael Keaton plays actor Riggan Thomson with a complex dynamic of ego and insecurity, as he tries to reinvent himself during a midlife crisis. Just like Keaton, Riggan once played a famous superhero in the movies that spawned a series of sequels: Birdman (fun fact: there is indeed a Birdman superhero). Riggan groans about Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Fassbender as they rake in fame and fortune by donning superhero costumes in this new era of movies based on comic books with a mix of disdain and envy. He seems plagued by a bitter resentment that he hasn’t somehow been recognized for paving the way for the superhero movie star in some impractical way (maybe he’s secretly hoping for “Pioneer Superhero Tentpole” Oscar?). Yet, he also desires recognition as an artist, so he decides to adapt Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” for Broadway. Meanwhile, the voice of Birdman, in a husky growl not unlike Christian Bale’s interpretation of Batman’s voice, seems to always belittle him when he’s alone. Oh, and one more characteristic of Riggan’s worth noting: he displays powers of levitation and telekinesis when no one else is looking.

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If the richness of the satirical implications of this character is not enough, there are many others who enter into Riggan’s world with their own quirks. Edward Norton does hilariously self-deprecating work as Riggan’s nemesis, Mike Shiner, the heroic stage actor who will save the play. Mike is literally cocksure. He strips to nothing backstage, in wardrobe, fists on hips, ready for his fitting. While Riggan strains for respect with his grave adaptation of serious literature, Mike oozes confidence in his craft that relies on method-like process. When on stage, he needs real gin to feel drunk and must follow his erection when he lies in bed with his actress girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts), who herself is a bundle of nerves in search of her own respect on Broadway. Riggan only wishes to earn appreciation as an actor with integrity and clashes with Mike over what Riggan sees as inappropriate behavior, but Mike wants Riggan to respect his process as essential to his craft. Hovering over that, Riggan’s best friend/manager/attorney Jake (Zach Galifianakis) sees integrity in making this production a commercially viable affair, but the constant collateral damage of ego puts him on edge. On the periphery, lackadaisically observing the ship sink and lusting after Mike, is Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter and assistant.

All of these people pine for a sense of their own version of what is essential to their own vision of reality, which they hope will grant them some sense of value, but that means struggling against the other titanic egos that surround them, which is key to the film’s humor and drama. The generalizations are so piled up in this film that it would be image-22891d8e-aa7a-45d2-8221-c72d6a5125cbunfair to fault it for presenting tropes or clichés. This is a movie about demolishing expectations where expectations often lead to disappointment. It thrives on generalization. But beyond that, Iñárritu presents it with a filmmaking style that at times defies the tenets of film language, adding yet another layer of meta reality to this satirical vehicle.

The editing in the film is invisible, but the story does not take place in real-time. Even though the entirety of Birdman seems like one take, with the camera slipping through corridors and other nice moments of trickery to meet the actors at various moments of crisis, the story covers several days. It speaks to the idea of theater where acting cannot lean on editing as a crutch. At the same time, it also speaks to the lack of connection between these people. There is no room for match cuts, associative cuts, shot-reverse-shot, etc. because no one genuinely connects. It’s also a departure for the director, whose films have often depended on action off-screen and silent moments of time trickling past cut and pasted together jarringly to add a sense of levity to the contemplation of his characters. It’s as if the film has lost a superpower, much like Riggan/Birdman.

The film’s musical accompaniment is worth mentioning. In his first film score, Grammy-winning jazz drummer and bandleader Antonio Sanchez  — who, like the director, also hails from Mexico City — gives the film a chaotic, cacophonous rhythm with a free-jazz, percussion-centric score, speaking to the nervous, scatterbrain of Riggan. Sanchez’s presence is so vivid, he even appears in the film at a drum image-83d3ecdf-6887-4c4f-be3e-ad184b9742b6kit on more than one occasion, giving physical form to the harried Riggan’s nerves. The always amazing and fluid camera work Emmanuel Lubezki is also key to the film’s tone. His sharp focus not only presents unforgiving images of the creases of many a weary face but also highlights makeup and styling designed to make some of the actors look like birds. Whether this is intentional or not, it speaks to Riggan’s perception of his world and to the fact that this is also an alienating presentation of reality, keeping the audience at arm’s length, building toward a finale that no one can truly, definitively understand because this is Riggan’s world … and ultimately, just a movie.

In its hyper-real presentation of story, Birdman takes an almost encyclopedic survey of every trope, generalization and prejudice we might have about Hollywood and celebrity culture and in turn lampoons it in some way. Critics, the PR machine, social media, the idea of fame by viral video, sexual relations between actors, clashing egos, it leaves none of it out. Much of it is reductive, but it’s also offered in a spectrum: there is the cynical theater critic for he powerful “New York Times,” the serious journalist with the social/theoretical concerns of the art and the star-struck reporter who will believe any rumor as insight into the unknowable person behind the celebrity. Of course, the film also does this with the colorful actors at the center of the film but still does not forget the personnel behind the scenes, as well. With Birdman, Iñárritu sets out to bite the hand that feeds so hard and with such force so as to dazzle those bitten with stars. It’s a caricature filled with magical realism that never forgets entertainment value, inviting everyone to have a laugh at themselves.

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Though it is implied that Riggan may or may not have super powers, whether or not he does is unimportant. What Iñárritu is doing with this character quirk is offering a metaphor for the power of celebrity, which Riggan is trying to suppress so his craft might be taken on its own terms. Ask any artist worth his or her own work, and they will tell you that they view celebrity with a wary eye. Galifianakis noted as much in his interview regarding the film in “Hollywood Reporter.” Recently, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau told me about it as if it exists outside of his control. It’s a double-edged sword that gives actors value, but that they do not have the same kind of control over. Scott Haze, another actor I interviewed, spoke about the prejudice that surrounds the work of his friend James Franco, who directed him in the underrated Child of God.

For all its smart satirical qualities, it’s hard to ignore a sense of genuine bitterness that informs the stories that make up Birdman. Iñárritu himself has had to combat high expectations from the beginning of his work in the U.S. But if you do not care to look behind the screwball farce of the action of the film, you will only be disappointed by this movie. It targets Hollywood as a business that thrives on celebrity to make its fortune at the sacrifice of people whose only dream was to express themselves in front of an audience before the machine gobbled them up, which is the true tragi-comedy of the reality of the entertainment business. What can you do? Enjoy the show!

Hans Morgenstern

Birdman runs 119 minutes and is Rated R (language, sexual humor and pathos). It has already opened in many theaters across the U.S. It opens in my area, South Florida, this Friday, Oct. 31. Fox Searchlight invited us to a preview screenings for the purpose of this review.

Update: Birdman arrives at Broward’s indie art house the Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Dec. 25.  It also won the Florida Film Critics award for best picture of 2014.

Previous update: On Nov. 7, it will be the premiere film at O Cinema’s newest theater in North Beach, at the former, newly renovated Byron Carlyle. (Update: due to technical issues the O Cinema premiere of Birdman was postponed. It now opens Friday, Nov. 21, and the cinema is honoring tickets from Nov. 7 for any Birdman screening at O Cinema Miami Beach).

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

1407364921It’s not always another person that can get between two lovers. In his first English-language film, Norwegian director Erik Poppe finds inspiration by looking to his own experiences and the dissolution of his marriage during a time when he was a war photographer. With 1,000 Times Good Night he presents a woman who is so caught up in her work she will risk not only her life, but her place as a mother to follow her ideology. There’s an empowerment of gender in his choice to explore his story through a woman’s perspective, but it also never softens the sacrifice involved, and Poppe delivers the point in a nerve-racking opening scene with hardly any dialogue, as a good photographer-turned-filmmaker would.

Juliette Binoche plays Rebecca, who has somehow found a way to photograph the ritual of a female suicide bomber as she heads out to detonate herself. The film’s title alludes to the explosive-laden vest and the ritual, but also reflects on Rebecca’s personal notion of martyrdom for her own ideology, though she prefers not to recognize it. When her zeal to get as close to the explosion as possible starts to clash with her conscience, she inevitably gets hurt. Though she survives, physical wounds reverberate to emotional difficulties that affect her entire family, which includes two daughters — one a child, the other a teenager — and a husband, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

The film plays with the dynamic between husband and wife as if another lover has come between them. After Rebecca’s husband Marcus takes her home from the hospital, there’s a tension of something profoundly unmentionable between them. The two are almost on entirely different wavelengths about what has happened, and they dare not speak about it. That the movie shows this with hardly any dialogue, speaks to the performances and Poppe’s eye for showing a story rather than relying on heavy-handed exposition.

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The film takes its time to follow a neat story arc that ends with a significant pay-off that will hopefully lead to some growth for this woman, but it will not come without sacrifice. These people have issues, and they keep them inside for some time. The film appropriately has to spend some time in tense silence for much of the early part of the film so that it might allow the audience to appreciate and contemplate a genuine tension between the couple. It will then earn the confrontation between the two when one of them finally finds the courage to say something about the ever-widening gulf between them.

Coster-Waldau and Binoche rivet the film with strong performances. The actors deliver in both silence and the inevitable explosion of their repressed feelings. When Marcus confronts Rebecca about how her work has detrimental effects on the family, Binoche transmits the pain and shame of having been trapped between her family and a passion for her work as if she had been caught in an infidelity. It’s a brilliant moment that reveals the silent precision of Binoche’s acting chops. Throughout the movie, Binoche never seems lost in some haze of ambiguity. This is a woman of convictions, and she carries that burden heavily.

The film has a conscience, but it also explores the flip side, which is the pain of sacrifice one makes for ideals, and it’s complex impact on loved ones. There’s a moment when Rebecca schools her elder daughter Steph (Lauryn Canny) on the problems in Africa, the role of corporations in those problems, including a lack of human rights and the news business’ interest in celebrity photographs over her war journalism. Steph has an admiration for her mother informed by her love for not only a mother but also a hero standing up for human rights. But that love will be put to the test at a refugee camp in Kenya, which a colleague tells Rebecca is completely safe for her to bring her daughter to.

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This refugee camp is the site of another intense sequence of danger when marauding rebels come in with AK-47s blasting. Rebecca cannot seem to contain her impulsiveness to get shots of the conflict, despite leaving her tearful daughter to enter the melee. It might seem illogical for a parent to do that, but Binoche is so good at capturing the passion of this woman she genuinely sells her as someone who can hardly control her addiction to adrenaline. It almost seems like a reflex for the woman, as not even the worried tears of her daughter can sway her from her job.

The film could have easily drowned itself in over-the-top melodrama, but it never does thanks to the carefully modulated acting of Binoche and the patient, deliberate construction of the story by Poppe and his co-writers. 1,000 Times Good Night does not glamorize the photographer. It presents her as a torn person who never seems whole without her camera and conflict but still understands her place as a mother. Poppe’s personal experience informs this complex character profoundly, and because he once was that person, he understands an end point will come. Whether a family can survive this force in their life is never fully resolved, but he builds toward a finale that shows there may be a wake-up call coming for this woman, and it relies on much of the film’s painstakingly constructed drama.

Note: Read my interview with Coster-Waldau on this movie, working with Binoche and his personal investment in his character here:

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks about bringing personal experience to his role in ‘1,000 Times Good Night’

Hans Morgenstern

1,000 Times Good Night runs 117 minutes and is not rated (contains violence and language). It opened in South Florida this past Friday at the Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables and the Tower Theater in Miami. It’s opening across the U.S. right now. To see other play dates across the nation, visit this link. Film Movement provided a screener link for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)