Notturno (2020) – on demand

Filmed over three years in war zones in Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon, Notturno (Nocturne) by Gianfranco Rosi is a documentary oddity.

Still Lives

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Notturno avoids being explicit about the volatile politics that dominate the region. Instead award-winning director and cinematographer Gianfranco Rosi observes ordinary people going about their daily lives in the aftermath of war, or with war still going on around them or in the distance. After years of conflict it is so much a part of life that it either isn’t mentioned or perhaps even noticed any more.

We never know which country we are in and individuals are not identified. Some are only shown in one scene but others are returned to over and over again. It’s as if the camera was set running and then left to see what it happened to pick up. The effect is mesmeric. There’s no narration. It’s up to the viewer if they want to try and join up the dots to make a narrative and draw conclusions – or not.

We see a boy preparing to go duck hunting on a quiet lake while burning oil refineries flare in the distance. A grieving mother, accompanied by women in black hijabs, visits the ruins of the prison where her son died. A group of male soldiers jogs past in the middle of nowhere. We see female peshmerga fighters relaxing or strapping on their body armour in their barracks. School children draw pictures of the atrocities they have seen. A family tries to carry on with life in their one cramped room. A couple talk together quietly on a cafe terrace overlooking a city, unconcerned at the sounds of gunfire in the distance. A group of mental patients improvise and rehearse a play based on their experiences.

Some of these images of suffering are framed so beautifully they look like oil paintings by Old Masters, yet they portray the contemporary lives of real people. It begs the question whether this is an acceptable way of portrayal. Notturno is simultaneously uncomfortable and inconclusive, a poignant reminder of the personal reality behind the big events that make the news.

Notturno is available exclusively on Mubi from 5 March 2021, with a Q&A with Gianfranco Rosi in conversation with Alejandro González Iñárritu.

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