A young girl, about nineteen or so, disembarks from a plane and plaintively surveys her surroundings, all the while, the omnipresent camera circles around and around her, always just missing out on showing her face, only revealing it, and its unique beauty, after what seems to be several minutes of anticipation. This is how Julia Loktev starts out her debut feature, before taking us, and her lead Luisa Williams, on a never-quite-explained adventure of a dingy, harshly lit New Jersey motel room and eventually the hustling bustling very epicenter of New York proper, Times Square.
Telling the tale of an unspecified and unracialized terrorist organization who has enlisted this young girl, whose motives are never explained, for reasons which also are never explained, to blow herself and as many innocent bystanders as she can take with her up, Loktev - who was the toast of the festival circuit for this film - manages to get the very most out of the very least. We never get to know this girl, in anything more than the most superficial of ways, and yet we feel for her - and fear for her. By the end, as she wanders Times Square preparing to do her worst, we worry not of what will happen to those around her so much as worry about her herself. Sure the intensity of not knowing when exactly the big bang will come, and thinking to ourselves that one of those people striding, sitting or milling across Broadway and its cross streets, could very well be someone we know or love, or even ourselves, is constantly present during the film's second act, but it is still this young girl that we watch and care for. Not wanting her to go through with it as much for her sake as for everyone elses.
Never daring to take an overtly political or religious stance one way or the other (the girl whispers that "he" will be proud of her, but who exactly is this "he"? A boyfriend, her father, God?) Loktev simply tells the story of this girl in her final hours of life - coldly, calculating and yet with a touch of some sort of love for her creation. We watch this girl as she watches everyone pass by. We watch this girl as she builds up the strength to push that final button. We watch this girl as she takes her final meals (a pizza in the motel room which she pleads for her hooded "wranglers" to share with her. A candied apple dribbling sticky upon her pouty lips. Street vendor pretzels, one in each hand, creamed in yellow mustard.). We watch and watch and watch, knowing that voyeurs are all we are destined to be. We have no control over what will happen. Like Jimmy Stewart desperately trapped in his wheelchair and cast as Grace Kelly is about to be sniffed out by Raymond Burr, we watch and we watch and we watch. This is not a story of countries and nations and political warfare, but instead the story of one young woman's desire - albeit it unanswered - to do what she most strongly believes in.
Much like Paul Greengrass' United 93, an equally intense "too-real" thriller-cum-sociopolitical disquisition, Loktev's Day Night Day Night, taking, if not the same situation, the same significant approximation if you will, plays out not just as an acting tour de force (and I say that with not even the slightest quibble of pretention) but as the most simply complex (or would that be complex simplification?) of real world events done to the music of the ultra mundane and the scarily repetative. Perhaps the longer that last sentence blathered on, the less sense it actually made, but then so goes this film of ms. Loktev's. Seemingly ordinary events, done in the most habitually monotone manner, which when weighed against the backdrop of our post 9/11 world, bear the burdon of Atlas upon their shoulders - and upon the shoulders of ms. Williams, in what could, and should, make her a star of world cinema. However, for now, in Day Night Day Night, the girl who is simply called "She" in the final credits, is ours to watch - and watch and watch. [06/11/07]