directed by Gianfranco Rosi
by Bill Chambers Notturno, meaning "nocturne" or simply "night" in the original Italian, opens with an epigraph stating that the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the end of WWI left the Middle East vulnerable to violent power-grabs in the decades that followed. What we're about to see, we are told, was shot over a period of three years in Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, and Lebanon, during the recent campaign of terror by ISIS forces, and one of the bones I have to pick with Gianfranco Rosi's latest observational documentary is the unresolved friction between this pithy summary of how the Middle East became a global blind spot and Notturno's conflation of those four Islamic countries on screen into one endless desert. Hypocritical might be too histrionic a word for it, but I can't think of anything better in that ballpark. The film begins with a cluster of older women garbed in jilbaabs, I believe they're called, filing into an abandoned, cavernous building and snaking up the stairs in a way that feels ceremonial. Is it a place of worship? The surroundings are difficult to parse. The women reach a small, cell-like room, and one of them cries out for her son, who died there while being held prisoner. Her anguish echoes across the next few passages, including cryptic shots of a guy staked out in the wilderness with a rifle, scenes of soldiers perhaps running drills, and rehearsals for some kind of play that the movie soon adopts as a framing device.