By Day And By Night

By Day And By Night


Reviewed by: David Graham

A puzzling and ponderous slice of existential sci-fi, Alejandro Molina's debut has an ingenious premise but it doesn't quite know what to do with its undeniably original central idea. With sleek design and considered performances from its appealing leads, the film is quietly absorbing without ever really gripping the viewer the way it could and should.

Sometime in the future, an enzyme has been used to segregate our race into daytime and nighttime factions. Everyone goes to rest in tandem, just as the other half of society awakes. People live to work, stuck in a rigidly-controlled city ruled by mysterious lords who keep the population in their place by warning of the devastation that awaits in the world at large. When a young girl is chosen to break the cycle through a medical experiment, she unwittingly brings her mother and new father closer together, instilling dreams that they may one day be able to live and love as a traditional unit. To do this they must leave the safety of the city and venture out into an abandoned world, fearful of what they might find but hopeful they may somehow find a way to consciously meet.

The director obviously aspires to the sort of chin-stroking, philosophical sci-fi of Solaris but sadly he doesn't quite give us enough head-food to chew on. The film is as visually dreamy as you might expect, some scenes echoing Eighties music video visions of the future while others present a clinically soulless environment that serves to keep the citizens in their place, complete with body-hugging lycra uniforms that wouldn't look out of place in an X-Men movie. The relatively small cast make the film an intimate experience but the repetitive nature of the narrative serves to keep the viewer at a distance from their situation; Molina starts to tug the emotional heart-strings a little too intently with the series of messages the characters use to communicate, while not enough happens in the political and ethical subplot involving Marius Biegai's kindly doctor. His role hints at the powerful notion of playing God, but his purpose is a little too vague, and his ridiculously protracted exit borders on the farcical.

The lead trio are all instantly appealing, Sandra Echeverria proving she's far more than just a pretty face through some emotionally demanding moments, while Manuel Balbio's sensitively handled relationship with a thoroughly charming child actor keeps us invested in their fates. The daughter may only be travelling from night to day, but she may as well be crossing the universe in terms of the distance the enzyme puts between her and her mother. Scenes where the characters shut down are nicely poignant, their lives intersecting physically but separated by a matter of mere seconds. It's a powerful concept that isn't really done full justice. Also, the ending may well be poetic in a cryptic way, but it's also deeply frustrating - no explanation is forthcoming for the trio's fate.

There are plenty of interesting themes in the narrative - the dangers of overpopulation, the effect work has on our lives - and it's all very prescient, with clear parallels to well-publicised problems in Mexico City. However, the storyline is ultimately too unsatisfying, with too many stretches where literally nothing seems to be going on. Many will find several sequences deeply frustrating, and the tone constantly borders on pretentious rather than just portentous, thanks to an occasionally clunky script. It's a shame, as By Day And By Night is an honorable attempt to do something different and more resonant in the field of dystopian drama, but it falls a little short of its lofty goals.

Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2011
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Gattaca meets THX1138 meets Blade Runner...
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Director: Alejandro Molina

Writer: Alejandro Molina, Roberto Garza

Starring: Sandra Echeverría, Marius Biegai, Manuel Balbi, Richie Mestre

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Mexico

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THX 1138