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.)

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.)