Blow Up

Day Night Day Night
Running time: 94 minutes
Written and directed by: Julia Loktev
Starring: Luisa Williams

Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night, from her own screenplay, has won many prizes around the world for its shaggy-dog story about a 19-year-old girl walking into Times Square with a bomb planted in her backpack. The Russian-born Ms. Loktev got the idea from a Chechen girl with a similar backpack in Moscow while Ms. Loktev was visiting there as a tourist. The Moscow news told of the would-be suicide bomber’s many mishaps before her bomb failed to go off, and of the frustration that she must have felt. As Ms. Loktev explains her choice of her film’s locale: “The story could take place in almost any city today. I choose New York because it’s the city I live in, the city I know and love more than any place in the world.”

It is true that there have been instances of women suicide bombers in the Russian-Chechen and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, but I can’t remember the phenomenon in the long history of the “troubles” in Ireland. Is it because there are more strictures against suicide in the Bible than in the Koran? Ms. Loktev chooses not to focus on the motivations of her female protagonist: “I made a choice to not explain why. I wanted to make a film about something fragile, almost intangible—the collision of belief, however flawed, with a world that just won’t cooperate.”

I’m sorry, Ms. Loktev: The absence of context may be enough for you, but it is not enough for me. As I see it, the choice of a protagonist who is listed in the credits simply as “She” (Luisa Williams in her acting debut), and who is shown in the lengthy process of being prepared for her mission by a group of hooded conspirators, raises too many unanswered questions: Why does the young girl decide to take her own life? What is the cause, noble or ignoble as it may be? Why does she make herself particularly immaculate by furiously bathing, scrubbing and brushing her teeth before she and her collaborators agree on her proper costume for the occasion? I can appreciate the irony of her cradling an AK-47 for the first time for the group’s publicity video. All the while, I felt as if I were watching some kind of indie-filmmaking stunt: How resourceful can a filmmaker be in doing location shooting without the camera being hidden? The results, I must say, are mixed in a place where so many of the tourists are fooling around with cameras of all sizes. Ms. Williams has a striking face, and she ably conveys her mortification at having an ignominious bladder accident in the midst of her sacred mission—but I wonder why only one jive-spouting denizen of the lower depths tries to pick her up, only to receive an exasperated silent brush-off?

All in all, it’s a creepy subject for a movie—especially when there is no payoff at the end. There are too many people I don’t know or understand in this world; I don’t need Ms. Loktev and Ms. Williams to introduce me to one more in a medium where I want to know and understand the characters paraded before me.

Blow Up