This film was previously reviewed in October 2020 as part of our London Film Festival coverage.

In one of the first scenes of Notturno we see a distraught mother mourning her lost son. She is stood wailing in a largely barren room, reliving his torture, reigniting her own pain. Her cries bounce off the bare walls. This is what this documentary is interested in, how pain is pouring out of empty spaces, how loss is keenly felt in absence.

Gianfranco Rosi follows various people living along the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon. Despite what this immediate introduction might suggest, the film is overwhelmingly quiet. The contours of pain that Rosi maps out are rendered through silence. Wordless glances between a couple and sweeping shots of people trudging across rugged terrain grant the audience with a sense of life here.

The stillness of Notturno is often effective but it also means that the figures onscreen are never given a backstory, which sacrifices a level of complexity in the storytelling. But this is also intentional. These people are real, uninterested in performing pain, focused on living their lives and getting through the day.

There are vital junctures in the story where people do invite the audience into their history. At one point, the silence is broken by young children describing the terror their families faced from ISIS. We see a once bare wall plastered with hand-drawn pictures capturing various acts of violence. It becomes quietly clear that much of the silence we have witnessed, many of the unadorned homes, are hiding the agony they have experienced. The protracted stretches of restraint belie a sense of grief.

There is an unassuming profundity in the way Rosi commits to offering us glimpses into these people’s worlds. Notturno’s simple composition conceals a beautiful world of loss, longing and love.



DIRECTOR: Gianfranco Rosi

SYNOPSIS: This documentary explores the lives of people living along the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon.