A family gathers for a special evening, full of food, fireworks and fun. But then the patriarch of the clan unexpectedly passes away the next day, leaving the remaining six family members to deal with their sharp, unexpected grief.
Writer-director Dorian Tocker’s lyrical drama is a portrait of a family at a critical juncture in its history, grappling with a sudden, shocking loss.
The events of the story are undeniably dramatic, but the film handles the aftermath with a genuine understated delicacy, whether it’s in the meditative pace or the sensitive, emotionally attuned documentary-style camerawork. It’s a remarkable quiet work, not just in sound but overall tonality, mirroring the silence of disbelief that often greets a surprising but devastating loss.
Almost like a series of photographs, the film captures different family members as they deal with the unthinkable, whether it’s the incapacity of the mother or the bewilderment of the family dog, penned up in the kitchen. The members of the ensemble cast each deliver a superlative, nuanced performance, offering a sense of the wide range of emotions that people experience in the throes of grieving a loved one. What’s especially effective is how the performances explore how inarticulable grief and mourning is, and how being in the middle of it can render someone unable to speak.
The film’s form also seems to gesture towards this sense of being cut-off, or at least a sense of being outside the normal sense of time and place. Many of the shots seem to position themselves on the margins of the scenes, with very little movement of the camera itself. Instead, people move in, out and through them, as if adrift in the moment.
With its willingness to elongate shots and sequences and dwell on the small, offhand details of a shot, the film also seems to experience its own sense of grief and sadness, as if gathering up all the mundane, ordinary yet beautiful things that we often take for granted until a tragedy takes it all away from us.
The film simply takes the care and time — time that the father no longer has — to observe the small details and rhythms of the ordinary world, whether it’s the hum of a fan in the background or the padding of dog’s feet on the floor. The father is no longer around to see these everyday details, much less experience the future events of his family — and the film seems to take the effort to cherish what it can before it is inevitably lost.
Some audiences are so used to rapid-fire editing that it may take a while for viewers to acclimate to the deliberate tempo of “The Day That.” But once they enter into its rhythms, they will discover how the quotidian reality we take for granted becomes transfigured with grief and profound sadness. Time itself runs differently; the small becomes significant and what’s taken for granted emerges into the foreground. “The Day That” is a rare experience that captures the texture and tone of one of life’s most difficult passages, with a sense of melancholy, grace and honesty.