A couple struggles to process the aftermath of the Bataclan terrorist attack in One Year, One Night (Un Ano, Una Noche), an affecting Berlin Film Festival competition title from Spanish director Isaki Lacuesta (Between Two Waters). Inspired by a book from Ramón González entitled Peace, Love and Death Metal, it’s based on recollections from real survivors of the 2015 attack in Paris, and the level of detail is compelling.
We first meet Frenchwoman Céline (Noémie Merlant) and her Spanish boyfriend Ramón (Nahuel Pérez) when they are wrapped in a foil recovery blanket, wandering dazed through the Paris streets and locking eyes with other survivors as they shiver and shine in silver in the dark.
The next morning, they try to carry on with their daily lives in their small Parisian apartment. But terrifying flashbacks and anxiety attacks begin to plague Ramón. Meanwhile, Céline goes back to her work at a young people’s shelter without telling anyone she was at the concert, even when she discusses it with young people who feel at risk of random, racially motivated retaliations.
Shot in intimate detail by DP Irina Lubtchansky, it’s an instantly immersive story. Merlant and Pérez put in excellent performances and make a likable, believable couple. She’s the rock to his sensitive soul, but there’s not a trace of sentimentality in the depiction of their challenged romance. In fact, this is all the more effective for being purposefully anti-sentiment.
A darkly funny scene sees the couple drinking with two friends who were also in the Bataclan theater that night. They look at their phones and compare messages sent by well-meaning friends, laughing at platitudes such as, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s a memorable scene that questions how we all respond to tragedy in the age of social media. It also highlights how disconnected these four young people feel from the rest of the world; how only they can know what it was like to be there, and how even they cannot agree on what actually happened.
This is deeply moving when re-creating the couple’s memories of the attacks — disturbing, of course, but not overplayed. The third act brings an unexpected and ambiguous narrative decision that will certainly get audiences talking. But One Year, One Night remains a powerful, bittersweet meditation on the impact of trauma and the desire not to be defined by it.