Saturday Editor’s Pick: Moment of Impact (1998)

by on October 1, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Sat Oct 8 at 7:30* at UnionDocs [Program & Tix]
*Director Julia Loktev in attendance with writer/critic Nicolas Rapold (Film Comment)


A week following the NYFF screening of Julia Loktev’s well-received The Loneliest Planet (still seeking distribution), UnionDocs hosts the Brooklyn filmmaker (Day Night Day Night) for a presentation of her first feature, a documentary that won her the Director’s Award at the Sundance Film Festival.


Amy Taubin for The Village Voice:

Julia Loktev, has made a documentary, Moment of Impact, about her parents’ daily life that is as discomforting as it is brilliant.


Shot with a handheld home video camera, the film is an intimate, unsparing view of a dread situation. Since the accident, Leonid has been capable of almost no autonomous physical movement and only the most limited speech. How much he understands is another matter— there are clues that he might be thinking far more than he can express. Larisa takes care of him 24-7 because she can’t stand how limited his life would be if he were in a nursing room and because her insurance company has denied home assistance. “I’m just a person placed in circumstances,” says Larisa, when her daughter grills her about her choices. “In principle, a responsible, reliable person, and he has no one else.”


If I were not so moved by the mother, I might be more disturbed than I was about the way the camera intrudes on her life and that of her husband. There’s no way of knowing how Leonid feels about having his vulnerability exposed, but he seems, at moments, to resent his filmmaker daughter intensely. The daughter is not unaware of the problem, but she toughs it out. “The only time I don’t feel invisible is when I go to aerobics,” says the mother. Thanks to this film, the witnesses to her life may be counted in the thousands.


Loktev presents the film and discusses her work at Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museums:


Rachel Rosen for Film Comment (March/Apr 1998):

What happens when memory and personality become a blank page? Moment of Impact is Julia Loktev’s excruciatingly revealing examination of the aftermath of an automobile accident and her father’s resulting brain damage. Loktev uses a variety of experimental techniques to tell her family’s story without narration: a historical slide show, medical reports typed out across the screen, crash reenactments with a doll and a toy car. But she doesn’t shirk on intimacy, providing counterpoint with frank conversations between mother and daughter and the stark realities of her father’s condition. His inability to communicate becomes a warped mirror refracting for the camera the needs, memories, and desires of mother and daughter.


An Indiewire interview with Loktev:

Time is a huge part of this film. It’s about being stuck in space; it’s about being stuck in time, and in a way, it’s a film that always has to be a little bit too long. My father has been around after the crash for almost 9 years and nothing changes, and he could be around for another 30 years — it’s about the day in, day out. The thing that I always come back to is that the film is not dramatic in its resolution, but in its inability to be resolved. So in that way, time is such an inherent part of it, so when people say, “Cut the one hour version,” I have such a hard time with that. You’re getting wider distribution, but for what? Not for the film. But for something else. The story is so much bound up with the way of treating it and telling it.


iW: Tell me about the structure and the kind of repetitive things you have going on?

Loktev: That was the one thing I started out with. When I starting shooting the film, I didn’t really know what it was going to be. I didn’t know if it was going to be a two hour film or a one hour film, for that matter. What I knew was that it was really important for me to keep it grounded in the kind of basic reality of my parents’ life — my mother taking care of my father, this endless, implacable fact of his there-ness. So I knew from the very beginning that I would have this repetition of morning scenes of my mom getting my father out of bed, in a sense thinking a little bit of something like “Jeanne Dielman” [by Chantel Ackerman] where everything is exactly repeated, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something that wasn’t quite so mechanical, so I shot the morning scenes from the same angles, but then there’s slight variation. . . but as long as I had those mornings, everything else I could go away from. I could get into more abstract things, I could get into other kinds of details, I could circle around things, but I always had to come back to the implacable fact of her getting him up the next morning.

Kathleen Mullen in the San Francisco Film Festival program notes:

Moment of Impact draws us into a family whose lives were irrevocably changed on a summer day in 1989 when Leonard Loktev, an émigré from Russia who had moved with his family to northern Colorado, was struck by a car and left in a near coma. Eight years after the accident, Julia Loktev, his daughter and the filmmaker, has found the courage to make this moving documentary. Loktev takes us into her family’s daily life and exposes her deeply felt love, frustration and pain and that of her mother Larisa—Leonard’s primary caretaker—as they interact with a father and husband who is not the man they once knew and loved. Discussing difficult questions with few answers, Julia and Larisa evoke shattering moments of emotion and loss. Larisa fights against the image of herself as a heroine, wanting to be seen as a woman who is coping in the best way she can with her family’s fate and the reality of her responsibility. Through humor, determination and sheer emotional will, she holds herself together in the hope that her daughter will not take on the same responsibility and will be left free to live her own life. With its glowing black-and-white photography and expressive, deeply poignant family portraits, Moment of Impact is a courageous meditation on the unpredictability of our existence.



Godfrey Cheshire for Variety:

Pic’s most unusual and valuable aspect, surely, is that it was made with only father, mother and daughter present. (Julia operated both sound and camera.) This gives an inside view of family dynamics that few films can boast. Yet it’s also a source of tension within the film. Larisa views her daughter with a barely submerged mix of love and anger, pride and resentment. Back in New York, we hear, Julia has been having an affair with an artist who’s decades older. The camera only adds to such sources of friction, since it allows Julia to be simultaneously controlling and remote.


The viewer might chafe at Julia’s presumptuousness too, yet it’s hard not to admire her skills. Given that pic’s visual purview is so limited, and that it concentrates on mundane and repetitious action, its power to compel attention is remarkable. That’s largely due to the involving sensuousness of pic’s low-definition video-originated images, a sure sense of editing rhythms, and the human subject.

She says that what she’s doing has nothing to do with love. The man she loved is gone; only a shell remains in his place. She took Leonid out of a nursing home in order to provide him with better, personal care because she had a responsibility put before her and chose to accept it. Simply that. There is resignation in her decision, but not in the intelligent, questioning way she makes good on it. At the end, it’s hard not to be impressed by Larisa’s stoic realism and Julia’s risky effort to take an esthetic view of such deeply personal material.


Janet Maslin was almost comically offended by the film, in a scathing review for the New York Times:

”Dad, are you happy with your life?” the filmmaker finally inquires, pointing her microphone into the face of a man who can barely manage yes or no answers. ”What do you want in life?” And for once, Mr. Loktev makes his feelings absolutely clear. What he tells his daughter, slowly but surely, is this: ”For you to go away.”


Amen. ”Moment of Impact” won Ms. Loktev a berth on the festival circuit and a documentary directing award at Sundance, but it is outrageously exploitative of both her parents and her viewers. While the audience pities Mr. Loktev and comes to admire his wife’s feistiness and dignity, the filmmaker blatantly capitalizes on these emotions. As she remarks in an audiotaped message to her father, which she plays here while filming herself sitting pensively beside a window, she is a student who got high marks in courses like French Film of the Nouvelle Vague and Sadomasochism in Literature and Film. And here, in the midst of her parents’ hardship, is the chance to buck for another A.


In a film devoid of both insight and self-knowledge, Ms. Loktev offers little but a few old photographs to explain who her father was and what he has lost. She stages arty compositions, like the frequent scenes in which she and her mother lie on rumpled sheets, posed moodily and sharing supposedly candid thoughts. ”Do you miss intimate contact?” she asks her mother at one such moment. Strong as she is, Larisa Loktev eventually erupts in tears over the strain caused by her daughter’s intrusions.


But good reviews abound for Loktev’s latest, The Loneliest Planet. J. Hoberman labels it one of the 5 Must-Sees at NYFF:

Julia Loktev’s follow-up to her brilliant exercise in terror, Day Night Day Night, is an equally unsettling experiential experiment in directing the audience. Led by a native guide, a frisky pair of backpackers—sensationally embodied by Gael García Bernal and Israeli actress Hani Furstenberg—venture into the ruggedly beautiful Caucasian outback. It might also be the land of allegory. Like Day Night Day Night, which tracked 24 hours in the life of a would-be suicide bomber, The Loneliest Planet has a two-part structure, the hinge being an enigmatic threat and an all-too-human response.


Mark Peranson for CinemaScope:

And then something shocking happens—it’s not fair to say what this game-changing event is, but, then again, Loktev never makes it clear what it signifies, nor is it ever discussed between the characters. We move to a place beyond language, reminiscent of Antonioni or the Van Sant of Gerry, where the stunning backdrops of the Georgian countryside transform from emblems of freedom to looming clouds of doom, with Richard Skelton’s haunting music providing an appropriate backdrop for hikers being dwarfed by landscape. Keen observers will also notice a slight change in the camerawork, plus the framing, with scenes of all three protagonists together: their couple has become in essence a threesome, with fates intertwined, and support needed more than ever. A film about small gestures, about silence and the need for forgiveness, about being close to someone but being psychologically miles apart, The Loneliest Planet is a memorable evocation of a relationship and a haunted place, intertwined.


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