Day 39 is a snapshot of modern-day warfare, focusing on one rookie US soldier on foot patrol with his platoon in a remote part of Afghanistan. It expertly captures the strange contradictions of warfare as ‘The Kid’ is enlisted to assist experienced medic ‘Doc’ with a medical emergency inside a darkened hut.
Tensions and ironies are ever-present – as Doc and The Kid set to work on trying to deliver a breech baby with limited resources, its father lies next to it, riddled with gunshot wounds courtesy of the US Army, and family members baulk at such dangerous assistance. As well as the contrast between birth and death, the lighthearted beginning, where platoon members clap and sing easily about feeling “gangsta”, is then immediately juxtaposed with the continuous spraying of bullets and sawing of strings as the patrol and cover fire begin in earnest.
Snatched moments are key, honed in on as split-second decisions occur on when to fire and who to trust. Francis Rodriguez’s moody but lower-key strings subtly drop in and out of the soundtrack to ratchet up attention or allow space for the silence to fill. Haunting vocals are also employed to pack a punch after an emotional discovery.
A variety of shots are used to help emphasise the emotional state of The Kid: tight closeups follow him into the action or hover as he processes commands. He is shot from inside the darkened doorway when first approaching the hut, the black walls either side of his advancing figure underlining his isolation as he heads into the unknown.
A finalist in the Annual Student Academy Awards last year, Day 39’s writer-director Jesse Gustafson (an ex-soldier himself) ably reveals the strangeness of war in this visceral work, as well as the importance of human connection, however fleeting.
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CAST: John Brodsky, Dion Mucciacito, Anna Myrha, Pooya Mohseni, Nathan Brimmer
DIRECTOR: Jesse Gustafson
WRITER: Jesse Gustafson
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Laurence Vannicelli
MUSIC: Francis Rodriguez
SYNOPSIS: Day 39 reveals a brief glimpse into the everyday life of a young U.S. soldier deployed in Afghanistan as he struggles with the unexpected events of warfare.