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Should a mother be doing this?

That’s the central question in A Thousand Times Good Night, a powerful new film from Norwegian director Erik Poppe

Should a mother be doing this?

Is career more important than family? A Thousand Times Good Night is Norwegian director Erik Poppe’s painful dissection of this basic question. Juliette Binoche plays a female war photographer whose job leaves her husband and two daughters fearing for her life – and which threatens to destroy her marriage.

The film received a standing ovation at its world premiere at the Montreal Film Festival and went on to win the festival’s Special Grand Prix. Anchored by Binoche’s raw performance, part of its intensity and emotional honesty comes from the fact that Poppe is, in many ways, telling his own story. In a career as a photographer for Norway’s Verdens Gang newspaper and then a cinematographer/director, he has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous places.

“The hardest thing wasn’t surving in Afghanistan or the Congo,” says Poppe, “but life back home. You’re so filled with adrenaline and then when you get back you’re so furious that no one cares. I remember filming in a village in eastern Congo as rebels approached, massacring people on their way. On the news that night, it was below a report about Paris Hilton leaving a car with no knickers on.”

In the film, when Binoche’s Rebecca is hospitalised after getting too close to a female suicide bomber in Afghanistan, her husband (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) persuades her to quit. But Rebecca admits, “I’m not good at life… being normal.” As Poppe puts it: “One day you’re in a war zone and the next day you’re at a parents’ meeting at school. It’s hard to reconcile the two.”

For the director, who is best known for his acclaimed Oslo Trilogy (1998-2008) of intense, character-driven films, it was a conscious decision to get a woman to play the main role. “The usual narrative is that it’s men doing this and we sort of accept it. By changing it to a woman, it gets more complicated. But when you go out to a war zone, there are lots of female photographers, many with kids.”

Poppe admits that the film has been a painful process for him and his family, but that it’s helped them understand a job he still does between movies and other commercial work. “I’ve seen the difference it can make. We need people telling these stories more than ever.”     

A Thousand Times Good Night is released in Norway on 18 October 


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