"Day Night Day Night" w/ filmmaker Julia Loktev

Date(s) - Tuesday 02/23/2010
12:00 am - 2:00 am

still image of female face from "Day Night Day Night"

A 19-year-old girl prepares to become a suicide bomber in Times Square. She speaks with a nondescript American accent, and it’s impossible to pinpoint her ethnicity.

We never see the bomb; we only see the backpack and headphones that disguise the detonator as a young woman prepares to become a suicide bomber.

The 19-year-old, known only as She, is a Tabla Rosa, with no discernible accent, ethnicity or family history. She is extremely vulnerable, alone, except for the men in masks who take her through the motions of preparation for her mission. The viewer never learns why she has made her momentous decision, we just know it’s been made. We are also left in the dark as to who She represents or what She believes in: we only know she believes it absolutely. The film strips the story down to its existential core, focusing on microscopic movements, the smallest of gestures, an economy of banal details.

Day Night Day Night is divided into two visually and aurally distinct parts: Preparation and Action. In the first part, the film faithfully follows the chronological order of events over the span of day to night as She prepares to execute her mission. She washes her socks, is dressed and fitted into the backpack, waits. Then the action begins: she’s in Times Square, alone. The film now becomes a series of trials, missteps and setbacks.

The film has no music and a minimal, at times improvised, script. Director Loktev draws out a powerful and emotional performance from untrained, first-time actress Luisa Williams in the lead role. Loktev also uses an extraordinary sound design track to cleverly build the tension and suspense, making the experience all too real.

Inspired in part by a Russian newspaper article about a female Chechen suicide bomber wandering around Moscow, the film could take place anywhere. But it happens to take place in Times Square, a target whose symbolism is so specific that it becomes generalized; a target so simple because it’s so obvious. Playing off a history of Joan of Arc films, the movie transpires mainly on the young woman’s face. The minimalism of her expressions is contrasted by the visual and aural noise of New York City as faith comes face-to-face with the possibility of failure.

More About Director Julia Loktev

At the age of nine, Julia Loktev emigrated to the United States with her family from St. Petersburg, Russia, and currently lives in New York City.

As her graduate thesis film from NYU, Loktev directed the intimate but unsentimental 1998 documentary Moment of Impact, about the aftermath of a car accident that left her own father severely brain-damaged and bedridden. Shot and edited without a crew, the film won numerous awards, including The Directing Audience Award at Sundance, and the Grand Prize at both Cinema du Reel and the Munich International Documentary Festival.

Loktev also creates multiple-screen video installations in a museum/gallery context, and has shown work at the Tate Modern in London, P.S.1 in New York, Haus der Kunst in Munich, Bienal de Valencia, and Mito Art Tower in Japan.

When asked to talk about her inspiration for Day Night Day Night, Loktev responded: “It started with an article I read in a Russian newspaper about a girl walking down a main street in Moscow with a bomb in her bag. What really drew me to the story was the elephant in the living room, the ending. We can’t talk about that. But I can say that it definitely doesn’t turn out how you expect it to. But also I had been walking the same street as this girl was about a week before, in Moscow, like tourist with a backpack, not knowing where I was going and I thought up until you have the explosion from the outside it really looks like the same thing, two girls walking around disoriented. What fascinated me was that under the surface something completely different was going on and I thought is there a way to make a film that gets out what is happening under this girl’s skin that isn’t about how something looks from the outside but feels from the inside.”

On her research for the film, Loktev told ioncinema.com: “I’ve read more about suicide bombers than any sane person really should…in Russian newspapers, American and Israeli newspapers… there are interviews available with people who set out to be suicide bombers and for one reason or another didn’t go through with it, either the thing didn’t work out or they backed out…these interviews are fascinating because often people reveal the most banal details that are part of this story.

For instance, there was one girl who backed out because she felt ‘she was doing it maybe because my boyfriend broke up with me and when I get to heaven god is going to know I came for something that wasn’t a pure reason.’  And so something like that I would work into the story. Not in a direct way, but with little pieces: girls who would talk about the clothing they wore for the mission because there’s always this part of dress up when they are transformed, first to look one way for the video, where they present this image of militancy, to hold a gun, to wear a military jacket before the mission and there’s this second part of the dress up which is the way they are dressed up for the mission itself, to blend in.

So in the film they take this very conservative looking girl..this almost clinical but very true scene where these guys select clothes for her to wear to blend in with the other girls in Times Square. No matter how giant the overall task, extreme events are made up of the most daily details. And that’s usually what people remember after the fact. I was struck by when you hear about people talking about 9/11 and some woman who remembered losing her shoe while she was running, and for her it will always be associated with that shoe she lost in the street.

One Chechen girl in Moscow blew up a truck bomb by running it into a convoy, but before she did, she stopped and bought some bananas,” explains Loktev. “I thought, it’s not about the truck bomb, it’s the bananas.” Or the pretzel. In Day Night Day Night, actress Luisa Williams stands in front of the Duane Reade on 42nd Street, eating one. With mustard.

Click here to read the full New York magazine interview with Julia Loktev.  Click here to read the New York Times review.