One Year, One Night – the Bataclan tragedy lives on its survivors (Berlinale review)

One Year, One Night – the Bataclan tragedy lives on its survivors (Berlinale review)

Céline and Ramón are a young binational couple who survived the terrorist attack at the Bataclan theatre on November 13, 2015. That harrowing night has left an open wound in their lives and they are struggling to regain a sense of normality and move beyond the identity they have been assigned as survivors of the attack. While Céline has repressed her experience and thrown herself back into her old life, Ramón is stuck in the past. Both are grappling with the same question: how can they survive and move on as a couple and don’t let trauma destroy their life and loving relationship.

Isaki Lacuesta, a Spanish director handling one of the biggest tragedies in modern French history seemed at first like an absurd choice. The Goya and Golden Shell at San Sebastian winner, read the testimony novel by Ramón Gonzalez, a Spanish survivor from the Bataclan attack, who described in the book not only the attack but the aftermath it had in his and his French girlfriend’s life and relationship. While the book was focusing on the first week or so after the attack, Lacuesta with his co-writers wrote a script that analyses the year after the attack, as the title of the film hints.

By referring to a whole year in the lives of his fictional starring couple, Lacuesta doesn’t focus just on the attack and the first sock after it. The characters and their traits are incredibly well selected to analyze as much as possible every little aspect of the story. Céline works at a home for children, with lots of them being muslim, hence she is constantly confronted on the issue. Ramón is not French, hence he survives the attack as foreigner in another country, being totally broken and with constants panic attacks from one hand, but criticizing the patriotic tone and style the French are handling the issue. European and world politics, islam, racism, rage, trauma are all under the microscope of the film that explores various viewpoints on the issues without losing focus of its main characters, but in contrast almost providing a psychological assessment of the two, in the process.

For sure “One Year, One Night” will be marketed as a film about Bataclan and the attack, like two films about the Utøya attack, that premiered a couple of years ago. But this is films is nothing like those. This is a film about trauma and how its protagonists are handling it. Céline even during the attack speaks with her father saying “I am the cinema, that’s why I cannot talk loud”, by continuing denying this traumatic for her and her boyfriend experience. While Ramon cannot work or focus while struggling with his mental health, she doesn’t even tell her colleagues that she was at Bataclan. There is a scene of the couple with friends that were also in the attack reading cheese SMS messages like “what doesn’t kill you…”. Celine points out, that no one can really help her that way. On the other hand she realizes that long term she hasn’t healed and her boyfriends totally different process of healing, annoys her, causing trouble in the couple dynamics.

The film couldn’t be that good without the two amazing leads. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart (Persian Lessons) and Noémie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) are giving amazing performances proving once more how good actors they are. Their chemistry as a couple is terrific, and amplified by the well written and thought script of the film and the frequent flash backs to the attack that point out the later recollection and psychology of our heroes, deflecting on the events.

Grade 5/5

by Isaki Lacuesta
Screenplay by: Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta, Fran Araújo
with Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Noémie Merlant, Quim Gutiérrez, Alba Guilera, Natalia De Molina
Country: Spain / France Year: 2021
Runtime: 130’

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