In Bertrand Bonello’s opaque thriller Nocturama, a group of young Parisian’s commit acts of domestic terrorism and while we are shown what they did, how they did it, and how they handle the aftermath, we are never told why they did it. A character declares that they ‘did what they had to do’ and the ‘what’ involves blowing up a couple of buildings and burning a statue.
Why? No clue.
In the first half the film bounces back and forth in time to show us how the acts were executed, and it is clear that much planning has gone into ensuring that the acts of terrorism are committed at around the same time—it is the stuff of “well-planned coordinated attacks” as the television pundits love to declare after the fact. These are all young kids, most of them probably well short of, or barely into, their 20s, and it is not possible either from their appearances or the way they dress to understand why they did what they did.
The aftermath of the terror attacks is set entirely in a shopping mall where the various conspirators convene to hide out until the heat is off. As the night wears on, they amuse themselves as young people probably would, by trying on clothes, eating the food and drinking the wine that is on sale at the mall, and having impromptu dance parties. Some group members are missing—a couple are presumed dead—but life goes on for those that are in the mall.
The young people who pull off the violent acts are not easily categorized as belonging to a certain section of Parisian society. They look like they come from all walks of life, and like young people the world over, it is not immediately clear why they do what they do.
That inscrutability is ‘makes’ this film. But it is also that same quality that leaves us with little more than a feeling of, “who knows what’s up with the kids these days.” In that essence I guess Nocturama is the ideal film festival film.