Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Day Night Day Night (2006, Julia Loktev)

This is the film I hoped PARADISE NOW would be- no ideological discussions or hand-wringing, but a portrait of the last days of a suicide bomber. But we shouldn't mistake this for pure realism- with a few exceptions, Loktev sticks to her heroine, played by Luisa Williams, using the camerawork and the exaggerated sound scheme (kudos to Leslie Shatz) to suggest a first-person experience. The film is divided into three clear acts- the protagonist arriving in town and waiting to be contact, the preparations for her operation, and finally her being turned loose to go through with the plan. The first two acts have a certain fascination, as Loktev observes the goings-on in detail, and Williams' performance really sells it- she's not a zealot or even a lamb being led to slaughter, but simply a girl who is fully committed to what she is about to do. But the film really takes off in the third act, in which Williams is practically the only character of note. As she wanders around in Times Square looking for the ideal moment to carry out her task, the film becomes almost unbearably tense. The emotional turmoil manifests itself on Williams' face- the fear she'll be caught, the last-minute misgivings about her task, her unwillingness to end her life. SPOILER: And when she finally does decide to blow herself up, it turns out that the device doesn't work. Some reviewers have complained about this, but frankly I thought it took the film to another, more existential level. Before this, she knew she was going to die, and she knew more or less when. She was prepared for every eventuality except for this one. So instead of blowing herself up- which she was fully ready to do- she's now alone in New York, wandering around with an undetonated explosive strapped to her back. She can't tell the police, and she can't contact her handlers. By the time Williams sits down on the sidewalk, whispering "why don't you want me?" to God or whoever she's doing this for, DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT has turned into a film about limbo, and as a result it's one of the loneliest films I've seen in a long, long time. Rating: 8 out of 10.

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