15 March 2016 | l_rawjalaurence
Intense Melodrama on the Pitfalls of War Photography
War photographer Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is one of the best at her job, obtaining the kind of pictures that invariably get published in western magazines as examples of the violence of conflicts in nonwestern areas such as Afghanistan or Kenya. The only snag is that Rebecca is so obsessed with her work that she cannot understand the damage she is doing to her family back in Ireland, especially her daughter Steph (Lauryn Canny).
The conflict between personal and professional values forms the kernel of Erik Poppe's film. Yet thematically speaking the director is far more interested in prompting reflection on the photographer's trade. While Rebecca certainly shows a good deal of bravery in trying to get the best pictures, we also understand that she is something of a voyeur who actively enjoys intruding into her subjects' personal space. Her fondness for the close-up of suffering people is quite disconcerting, especially in a sequence taking place in the back of an SUV in Afghanistan. In political terms, she adopts a neocolonialist position of the westerner taking scopophilic pleasure in the power she exerts through her camera.
Perhaps the film's most telling moment occurs back in Ireland, when Steph turns the camera on Rebecca and photographs her repeatedly. Rebecca cannot endure the experience of the lens pointing at her in such an intense manner and turns her head away, her eyes filling with tears. Would that Rebecca might understand that her subjects could feel much the same; but if she did so, then she would not be good at her job.
Given the integrity with which Poppe examines this issue, it's rather sad that the film as a whole should be somewhat melodramatic. In the end the action descends into something of a tug-of-love battle between mother and family; at one point Rebecca bundles Steph and her younger sister Lisa (Adrianna Cramer Curtis) in a pathetic attempt to abduct them from their family home. Needless to say husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau) foils the plot and eventually looks after the girls himself.
The film makes a half-hearted attempt to draw a parallel between Rebecca's wanderlust and the rhythms of the tide (her daughter observes that the photographer is like the sea, coming and going), but unfortunately outstays its welcome: the last half-hour unfolds slowly but predictably towards an inevitable denouement. This is a shame, given the seriousness of its basic premise - almost as if director Poppe had lost the courage of his convictions.