A harrowing movie about a female suicide bomber headed for Times Square. Unlike Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now, which followed two Palestinian “suiciders” into Israel, Day Night Day Night refuses to give any kind of context. The nationality, ethnicity, religion, political and private motivations of the girl with the detonating knapsack (Luisa Williams) are never revealed; at most, a few hints are sprinkled throughout the movie. We don’t even know her name: Williams is merely credited as “she.” Instead of the socio-economic, cultural, moral and political web surrounding the characters of Paradise Now, first-time director Julia Loktev focuses on minutiae: the way “she” carefully bathes and trims her nails in the nondescript motel room where she meets hooded men who outfit her with cheap clothes, a fake ID, and the strap-on explosive device, the way the organizers makes sure she wears a seat belt on the way to her attack, the way the zipper of her jacket gets stuck when she fumbles to readjust the trigger of her bomb.

The first half of the movie is tightly controlled and claustrophobic; the second half, in Times Square, is sprawling and chaotic, but no less wrought with fear. The enormously expressive face of Luisa Williams carries most of the film’s weight; it wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to say that the movie is her face: fierce determination shot through with existential dread. Loktev seems to be saying that death, murder, and suicide will always remain mysteries to the living, and when all three are folded into the single push of a button, we can only approach this singularity like a Black Hole. There is no way we can truly understand what led to it, or what comes after.

Day Night Day Night opens on on May 9; we’ll have a full review on About.

Day Night Day Night. Julia Loktev, 2006. ****

The trailer: