The new issue of Film Comment isn’t online yet, but a friend emailed me this excerpt from Gavin Smith’s Cannes review in which he singles out for praise Julia Loktev’s mysteriously compelling American independent film Day Night Day Night:
“In the end, it was the Directors’ Fortnight that served up the festival’s single most riveting work, Julia Loktev’s unforeseen tour de force Day Night Day Night. The film’s cool, uninflected observation of a young woman being prepared for and then setting about executing a suicide bomb attack in the middle of Times Square obviously courts controversy, even thought the Russian-born filmmaker was originally inspired by the cases of several female Chechen suicide bombers in Moscow. Loktev refrains from both moralizing and sensationalism and keeps her handheld camera fixed on her nameless and acquiescent subject (played by Luisa Williams) as she obediently follows the instructions of her masked and anonymous handlers. Motivation remains opaque and ambiguous – is this for real? What’s the twist? Loktev is ultimately fascinated by the accumulation of human details – banal and incongruous gestures, contradictory impulses, and unexpected acts of generosity and gratitude on the crowded streets – and how they threaten to overwhelm this timid-seeming girl’s apparently unshakable resolve. Loktev’s film is about the way the world around you can steadily erode your moral certainties and convictions – the attrition that experience brings to bear on systems of belief.
“Otherwise, Day Night Day Night’s raison d’être is wholly enigmatic. On some level it feels like a kind of experiment a la Yoko Ono’s 1969 feature Rape. On the other, it’s a kind of provocation, in the best possible sense. On another still, it seems deeply invested in a sense of what can only be called dispassionate compassion. In the end it’s a genuinely unnerving and unexpectedly moving experience. If only Cannes offered more such fare.”