*A guest review today, from Nick Schager, of Slant Magazine
Day Night Day Night approaches suicide bombing from an abstract perspective, following a young, nameless, ethnically unidentifiable girl (Luisa Williams) as she prepares for, and then attempts to carry out, a mission to detonate an explosive device in Times Square. With no hint as to her religion, her cause, her personal reasons for sacrificing herself, and the identity of her masked cohorts, the girl remains a mysterious cipher throughout Julia Loktev's austere, cinema-verité directorial debut. As a context-free reproduction of the moments preceding a cataclysmic event, the film is something of a narrative and stylistic companion piece to United 93, focusing on the mundane particulars of a (potential) tragedy at the deliberate expense of providing any framework for the action at hand. Loktev seems intent on fictionally envisioning that which she can't fully know – namely, "What do suicide bombers do to pass the time before their martyrdom-seeking deed?" –– by situating viewers in a very particular, banal "space," an endeavor whose success is quickly diffused by a complete and utter lack of insight (or interest in providing insight) into anything being depicted.
Title reflects story structure in Day Night Day Night, as prosaic repetition is the key motif of this odyssey of inaction, which fixates – via long, oppressively silent takes – on its protagonist cutting toenails, scrubbing herself in the tub, shaving her armpits, and napping. With scant, functional dialogue punctuated only by brief moments of the girl whispering fervent prayers to her god ("I have only one death. I want my death to be for you"), and with most everything shot in tight close-ups that capture a sense of intimate tactility, the film is defined by an aesthetic asceticism that's both punishing and, at least initially, mesmerizing in its rigorousness. With no background or situational details to help flesh out what's occurring, and with the director diligently confounding any real-world readings by various means (avoiding mention of specific creeds, casting white, black and Asian men and women as conspirators, utilizing generic revolutionary logos and garb), the girl's activities in her motel room are doggedly stripped down to a conceptual level. In Loktev's portrait, the larger meaning is nothing; the immediate exploit is everything.