Our war photographer is Rebecca (Juliette Binoche), who has a near-death experience when caught up in a suicide bomb attempt in the Middle East, as she puts herself in danger when attempting to capture the intimate moments leading up towards the explosion. Upon returning home to Ireland, her husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and young daughter Steph (Lauryn Canny) are furious with her, and desperately want her to give up her job and focus again on being a wife, and mother. However, though travelling the world and witnessing unimaginable horrors, it seems the place Rebecca is most afraid of, is home.
While the intricate family dynamic is nuanced enough, the film is accompanied and enriched by the profound complexity of war, and the treacherous incidents occurring worldwide. A strange confliction of emotions transpires for the viewer, as we are put into the protagonist’s shoes somewhat, struggling to differentiate between her family life at home, and the devastation of the war zone, never quite able to work out which takes precedence. Despite the enormity of the story, Poppe ensures this remains a subtle offering, epitomised effectively in the character of Steph, and her naturalistic reaction to her mother’s volatile vocation. When confronted with the issue, rather than taking a more melodramatic approach, where you may expect a shouting match between mother and daughter to ensue, instead she’s embarrassed by her inner feelings, frightened and uncomfortable in opening up and letting her guard down – and it’s more believable as a result.
The film survives mostly off the wonderful, absorbing leading performance by Binoche, in what a truly layered character to get your head around. There’s an emotional detachment of sorts between the viewer and the lead, and while in many cases this could prove to be pernicious to proceedings, Poppe ensures it serves the narrative well, as Rebecca needs to have this disconnect for us to truly believe in the role – because it’s how she survives and copes with what she does for a living – a living we often take for granted.
The only real problem with a film that addresses so many issues, is that perhaps the director can be accused of losing sight as to what the main emphasis of this film really is. The mother-daughter relationship certainly has the most scope and potential, and while it seems to take precedence, it’s difficult to judge exactly what the filmmaker is hoping to convey, and where his focus lies. The film ends on something of a dissatisfying manner too, going on for just that little bit too long – and in what is an otherwise understated production, it’s a shame to see an unsubtle finale, carelessly continuing on.