Cast:

Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lauryn Canny

Director:

Erik Poppe

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Running time:

117 mins

Rating:

M (violence, offensive language)

Verdict: Beautiful, but contrived and sanctimonious.

A patient watchfulness and an often exquisite visual sensibility distinguish the first film outside his native Norway by writer director Poppe. Little wonder: he's a former press photographer who has seen time in war zones and has told interviewers "I took my own story, straight from my life, and made it as the film's story."

Binoche is Rebecca, a warzone snapper on assignment in Afghanistan where, in the electrifying opening reel, she gets shots of a female suicide bomber being prepared for a mission then follows her to the scene of the planned atrocity.

What happens next should not be spelled out here, though it's fair to say Rebecca's professional envelope-pushing has catastrophic consequences, not least for herself. Soon, she's convalescing at the picture-perfect house on the Irish coast that she shares with marine biologist husband Marcus (Game of Thrones' Coster-Waldau) and her daughters, the elder of whom, Stephanie (Canny) shares her mum's artistic bent. Needless to say, no one at home is happy about what has gone down.

The title (it's what Juliet says to Romeo at the end of the balcony scene) is a mystery but not as much as the film's moral perspective. Poppe wants us to see Rebecca as a witness to the world, but her pronouncements about the anger that drives her work sound pompous and self-obsessed: "You said you loved me because I had passion," she tells Marcus when he demands to know why she attended a suicide bombing. "The world needs [what I do]."

Things go from bad to worse when she takes Stephanie on a supposedly safe trip, inspired by a school project, to a refugee camp in Africa where things unravel badly. The climactic realisation this prompts in Rebecca is contrived, but worse, it feels like a failure of nerve in dramatic terms. Given Poppe's background, it is remarkable how poorly attuned he seems to the moral implications of the story he is telling.

The material is rescued slightly by Binoche, whose performance is characteristically intense and focused. But a whiff of sanctimonious do-gooding clings to the whole project. The geopolitical realities of 2015 entitle us to expect something more nuanced than this.


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