Spare but by no means sparse, Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night introduces its main character in the film’s first frames and then sticks with her for the duration. It’s hard to think of an example of a director’s camera paying such continuous and slavish devotion to a single character—but the Dardenne Brothers’ Rosetta does come to mind. Loktev’s nameless heroine, played with emphatic determination by Luisa Williams, has an indeterminate ethnic look that plays directly into the vagaries of the plot within which she’s embedded. She arrives at New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal and is quickly prompted along by a series of cell-phone calls. It soon becomes apparent that this girl is our worst nightmare: a member of a homegrown, U.S.-based terror cell preparing for a suicide mission. While the subject matter is red-hot, Loktev and her actress keep things cool. The oblique strategy—distilling plot and character information to a trickle—heightens the tension. Viewers will find themselves asking “Why? Why? Why?” in a structural echo, perhaps, of the repetition in the film’s title. That the project was filmed digitally, and at times without shooting permits, also works to Loktev’s advantage. The format allows the mobility and time to get the atmosphere and performances right, and the presence of real people in the exterior scenes sharpens the talons of emotional authenticity—particularly for us jumpy city folk. Terror, in this day and age, is akin to an army of shadows—inchoate yet deadly. Loktev, with her emphasis on a single threat emerging from the background radiation of fear, brings our underlying dread into focus. Thankfully, the experience remains contained on screen—at least for now.
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