I got to be honest, I haven’t been having luck finding any new movies to watch this month. Maybe it’s because it’s the holidays and I’d rather watch Christmas movies I’ve seen a million times for comfort. But even that gets boring. So I took a chance and poked around the Criterion Channel (because of course I have that app) and I happened across the French film Nocturama. And I couldn’t be happier because I really enjoyed a movie about a bunch of teenagers being terrorist… I should explain myself.
The film is centered around several French teenagers and young adults. They spread out all over Paris to plant bombs to go off at the same time. When they succeed they decide to hide out inside a closed mall until the next morning. But the longer they stay inside the more some of them regret their life decisions, all the while the streets of Paris are filled with chaos.
The plot is extremely simple when you break it down. The first 50 minutes of the film is the group setting up the explosives’ and the rest of the film is them hanging out in the mall. It’s hard to think this is a 2 hour and 10 minute movie. But what keeps your interest is the scenario and characters. I wasn’t kidding about my title as most of these kids do this because… well, they’re bored kids. Some of the older ones do this for political reasons. The person who planned this attack convinces most of them that they live in an unjust, capitalist society that needs to be taken down. And since teenagers are usually susceptible to any suggestions that are against authority figures, it makes sense for this guy to recruit a younger crowd to pull off this attack. The film takes its time setting up what these kids are doing, where they are going, and why they would even do this. And because of the time this movie gives to its world building and characters, you can see how plausible this plan could be in real life.
But where the film really starts to shine is when they all get to the mall. Since they deal with the security and everyone inside was cleared out, the teens have the mall to themselves. And they are stuck in here for hours until daybreak for the coast to be clear. So to pass the time they dress up in nice clothes, drink wine, eat expensive food, play music, and play with toys and videogames. These moments really reinforce just how childish these teenagers are. They just pulled off a domestic terrorist attack because they want to over-throw their current system. Yet at the same time they wear brand name clothing and listen to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” (a classic song choice). In fact, my favorite element of this film is how they use mainstream music. The film uses ironic music tracks to show us how misguided these teens are. When listening to “Whip My Hair” they turn on the news and see their crimes on full display. But the teens just look at the destruction with vague disinterest, like they don’t know what they’ve done is wrong.
Of course, this mindset bites them in the ass as the movie progresses. Each character breaks in some way and at different times. Some of the older ones realize the weight of their situation, some are scared they’ll get caught, while others don’t really seem to care. Each one deals with their situation in different ways. The oldest kid tries to keep a low profile and hang out with his girlfriend, and the youngest gets bored and walks around the mall with a golden mask on (no I won’t explain why he does this). Having a cast this big lets us see different mindsets of these characters. The movie could have made them all monsters, considering their crimes. But focusing on how each kid slowly falls apart lets us see them as more human. And it goes without saying the cast of predominantly young actors are very good. Each of them give compelling performances ranging from calm and collective, to scared, to naïve and bold, and to just acting like real teenagers would in this scenario.
I don’t want to say too much because then I would have to get into the climax and I wouldn’t even dream of spoiling that. All I’ll say is that it’s a brutal yet fitting ending to the story. Nocturama seems intimidating on the surface, what with its premise and slow-burn presentation. But it was honestly a breath of fresh air for me. I usually like slow character studies with brutal and realistic endings like this so it was right up my alley. It’s kind of like a spy thriller mixed with Dawn of the Dead (1978), if you’re interested in that type of story. Or maybe I was in the mood to watch something a little bit darker to cap off this awful, awful year.