By Jay Kuehner
The latest issue of Sight and Sound is devoted to the state of American independent cinema and the apparent dearth of genuine US indie talent. While a host of usual suspects is nominated to make or break the argument, there is no mention of Julia Loktev, the Russian-born but US-bred filmmaker whose work to date has included audio and video art installation pieces, as well as the prize-winning documentary Moment of Impact (1998), which deals with the quotidian aftermath of her father's debilitating car accident. Now opening, rather portentously, in the city of its conception, Loktev's fiction film debut Day Night Day Night [official site] is evidence of a director clearly committed to an idea and its execution. The film is a viscerally wrenching but never hyperbolic examination of an unnamed female suicide bomber who, over the film's titular course, prepares to carry out her mission in the heart of New York City.
The film has garnered both a chorus of accolades as well as dissent since its premier in the Quinzaine des RZalisateurs at Cannes '06 and, in spite of a long gestation to reach American theaters, its fully loaded subject is no less relevant today. I spoke with the director at the Telluride Film Festival.
The impetus for Day Night Day Night was based on a real incident?
It began with an article that I read in a Russian newspaper, about a girl who was arrested with a bomb. The facts of the story are sketchy, but there were intimate details that I was drawn to. So I did a lot of other research, and I'm always interested in the parts that don't make the most sense, the details that don't fit the main narrative, that don't go how you would imagine them to go in a schematic way. But if you took something apart and looked at it as a personal case, as situational, you can try to get into the question of what does it mean to go through this process? Here you focus on the most visible things, and the most visceral things.
For me it's also very much a film about a face in the crowd. The camera is on her for virtually every frame of the film. It follows her around relentlessly, doggedly, as she goes through this process, and then you take this face and push it out into a crowd, outside, in the middle of Times Square. That was very exciting, just filming that.
Was there something intrinsic about her as a suicide bomber that attracted you to the story, or did you feel like this catalyzed some interests you already had in terms of how you see people?
I was interested fundamentally in, for lack of a better word, an existential story. I was interested in notions of faith, in notions of determination, notions of failure, how faith is eroded and how it is possible, how it may or may not be challenged. I try not to abuse the notion of universal, but there was something very basic and simple to this story. We were starting out from this position of conviction, and then the way the world encroaches on that, what happens to conviction when it meets the real.
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