The Reeler


May 9, 2007

Day Night Day Night

Story of Times Square suicide bomber generates buzz around a void

Day Night Day Night begins in whispers and ends in silence, the film in between documenting that fade into nothingness. The story is slight: A nameless young woman (Luisa Williams) has decided to become a suicide bomber and passively accepts instructions from masked members of an unknown terrorist group until she reaches the target. Director Julia Loktev doles out little background information, building her film around the details that other films elide. Through impeccable sound design, handheld camera work and imperceptible facial movements, Loktev documents the deadening repetitions involved in shaping a killer.

The result recalls everything from Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc (the use of faces) to the Dardennes' Rosetta (the attention to local detail), but it is most clearly aligned with Bresson's A Man Escaped. Both films use non-professional actors and employ sound to motor the narrative, shaping it to create tension from off-screen footfalls and nervous exhalations. They run on inverted narrative paths, however, as Bresson heads toward freedom and a type of grace, whereas Loktev barrels toward negation.

This is Loktev's first narrative feature, but she has already directed a lauded documentary, Moment of Impact (1998), and has been making audio art pieces since her time as a film student at McGill University (she later received a graduate degree in film from NYU). This grounding in the possibilities of sound is abundantly evident in Day Night Day Night. Along with noted sound designer Leslie Shatz (Last Days), Loktev has created a film as much for the ear as for the eye. The world around Luisa Williams is a dense, constantly shifting soundscape. While ensconced in a bland hotel room during her prep time, the audio is painful in its banality. The shower emits a grating roar, her clipper gives off a tinny snip and her rhythmic clicking of the lamp switch creates an atmosphere of desperate isolation. This suffocating tone is further enforced by the robotic instructions of the terror cell as it forces her to repeat her false identity and painstakingly tweak her wardrobe before filming her confessional video (hair up or down?).

Once she is spirited away and dumped into Times Square, the audio shifts from documenting isolated movements to capturing the multilingual, overpowering din of the area. She barrels through the space, seemingly cocooned against the aural onslaught around her. The decisive moment occurs at a teeming intersection, the world reduced to her open face and lingering hand on the detonator. Amidst a montage of other hands going about their boring everyday business, the girl makes her decision with a single violent breath.

Resolutely exterior, the film makes no judgments about her character, shifting the interpretative weight to the viewer. But what is there to interpret? She is blank, a structuring absence. The sounds of her everyday habits are the only proof of her existence -- a buzz surrounding a void. She has become an echo chamber for whatever ideology has swallowed her whole.

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