A 19-year-old girl, identified only as She, arrives in New York; a day later she’s wandering around Times Square with a bomb in her backpack. The long intervening hours are the subject of Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night. I sat down with Loktev over tea to discuss the film.
What prompted your fascination with suicide bombers? I didn’t have a fascination with suicide bombers. At least I didn’t think I did. And then I read this article in a Russian newspaper about a girl who was walking through Moscow with a bomb in her bag, [and] I got caught up in that story. When you see characters like these in movies, they fall into cliché. They have some horror in their family that they need to avenge. But when you read it in newspapers, it’ll say, “Dad ran a successful fish-and-chips shop. And all his friends say he likes soccer and he likes girls.” So those are the things I’m always struck by. I’ve been accused of taking this story out of context, but that’s impossible. The context isn’t stated in the film, but it engulfs every frame.
So why does it seem like She never stops eating? There’s this culture of the last meal—it happens with suicide bombers, prisoners, even Jesus. And I wondered what that would mean to a 19-year-old girl. She has consciously chosen to leave the material world, go to a higher plane of some sort, and at the same time the world keeps yanking at her, saying, “Have a candy apple!”
Is it New York that’s yanking? Does the city change her? The city is another character in the film. Once you take a plan out into the streets, the real world starts to batter away at it from all sides. And I wanted this to be—I don’t know how to say this without sounding cheesy—a valentine to New York, to things that I love about being on the street, to the way that people just start talking to you.
The figure of the suicide bomber is unique to the contemporary world, but were you interested in the cultural history of the female martyr? I was interested in the parallel of faith—my character believes in a higher cause even though it’s never named—but also specifically in the way Joan of Arc has been shown in films. She’s somebody who is always tortured by the camera, [and] my film is very much about a girl’s face and a camera. And Luisa [Williams] is a big Jean Seberg fan, and she got me thinking about Seberg’s interpretation of Joan as a pesky teenager. I wanted these to inform the film, because Joan of Arc was leading her people on a crusade, but she was also perceived as a crackpot.
And maybe she was? And maybe she was.