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Simon Read [Film Festival 06.27.11] United Kingdom Mexico movie review scifi

Year: 2010
Directors: Alejandro Molina
Writers: Roberto Garza
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 7 out of 10

In the world of By Day By Night the inhabitants of a vast domed city are separated into two divisions: day people who work during daylight hours and sleep and night, and the night people who inhabit the same living quarters for sleep during the day and work the same jobs at night. It seems that space is so limited in the future, and the outside world apparently so hostile, that society has had to live this way for decades. A child is discovered by the night people, apparently comatose and with no record of where it came from. Meanwhile a day person, a woman called Aurora, desperately seeks news of her daughter who was selected for "leadership training" but cannot get a straight answer out of the leaders themselves...

Long time editor and first time director Alejandro Molina's science-fiction think-piece is a beautifully shot and incredibly ambitious film which I enjoyed, but anyone who needs a film to present them with all the information and spell out exactly what the characters are experiencing will find it somewhat frustrating. To say the pace is slow is an understatement, it's positively glacial, and the story demands to be filled-in by the audience because there is no way to understand it unless one starts to make assumptions about what's going on. The way scenes play out between characters is naturalistic to the point of being clipped, they interact but never say what's really on their mind - their hopes and desires - in the same way a character in a Hollywood film will give exposition right away on what to expect from their story. Quite simply it feels like a social-realist sci-fi that's not afraid to ask the audience to do some work.

Aurora, a forensic scientist, can't find any trace of her daughter on the city's computerized information system (or Internet or whatever) and is having a mental breakdown. Normally children aren't raised by their biological parents anymore but by pre-selected teachers, as breeding is now considered dated and reproduction takes place in laboratories, so Aurora's reaction to being out of touch with her child seems odd to her co-workers, but crucially not to us. Meanwhile a night person called Urbano is one of the scientists to study the mystery child, who he eventually manages to wake-up and takes home to his one room apartment, teaching her simple games for his and her amusement. They bond and he takes her out to the last botanical gardens in the city, making sure they stay several meters apart lest anyone think they're together, as what he's doing is highly illegal. Aurora seeks help from a retired research scientist - who might be working with the leaders in order to trap her and Urbano who they believe to be subversives - and he gives her information that may lead her to Urbano and her missing daughter.

Most of this I pieced together and many will have other theories as to what the specifics are, but by the time the last act comes it doesn't matter as the film becomes extremely meditative and wistful, so much so that to argue the finer plot details is to miss the point of the film entirely. I think Molina is trying to craft a film about the loss of love, tenderness and humanity in the face of technology and the alienation that comes with it. During the last part of the film (by which time I think most of the audience actually had lost patience with it) we get a kind of resolution, and while it's very portentous, it's also highly pretentious, the two often going hand-in-hand. Still, I found myself digging the whole vibe, the idea that humans were so advanced technologically but had socially reversed and the only person remembering a time when public parks were used by friends and lovers as places of enjoyment being the retired scientist. Throughout the film he reads extracts from the diary of the inventor of the enzyme that created the 'Night Shifts' and charts the decline of human emotion and expression over the years.

The performances, while subdued, are perfectly fitting for the mood of the film with leads Sandra Echeverría and Manuel Balbi managing to create chemistry despite living in different time-zones and never actually 'meeting' in person, but communicating with video recordings. One of the strongest elements of By Day By Night is definitely the production design, which uses a mixture of futuristic sets such as the apartments and laboratories, and fuses the aesthetic with pre-existing buildings in Mexico City which lends the film an air of authenticity. Everything down to the special suits the characters wear has been thought out, and the leader of the city appears in various bizarre looking, almost quasi-religious rooms, often perched on top of a huge wire chair. The look of the film reminded me strongly of Aeon Flux, with the retro futurist touches, the grays, whites and greens and lots of sharp corners and prickly, weird designs.

A friend asked me the day after seeing By Day By Night if it were any good and I said yes, but also that, "It's a bit like a Mexican version of 'Solaris' which has no ending." If that sounds like a good thing to you then check this out, but if it's got you reaching for the nearest exit, consider this a warning.

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