On April Fool’s Day 1989, Leonid Loktev changed without warning into another person. He awoke that Saturday still familiar to his wife, Larisa, who like him was a computer programmer/analyst, born and educated in the Soviet Union and now living comfortably in Colorado. Photographs give evidence of the man she saw across the breakfast table: 50 years old, outgoing, musical, a bit of a ham actor. But by the end of the day, someone unknowable to Larisa had taken up residence in her husband’s body. A car had struck him as he crossed the street after visiting a garage sale.
Photographs also give evidence of the event. You can see skid marks to the left of the road’s center line; a dent in the Ford’s left front fender; a spider web of shattered glass in the windshield, directly in front of the driver. When the person who was scraped from the pavement emerged from his coma, Larisa understood she could continue to call him Leonid only for convenience’ sake. She could not recognize this man; but neither could she abandon him. And so she, too, changed without warning. She became the full-time caretaker for a stranger.
Moment of Impact is a quiet but mountingly intense study of Larisa’s life seven years later, and of the life of the filmmaker: the Loktevs’ daughter Julia, who was a 20-year-old college student at the time of the accident. In the summer of 1996 Julia came home from New York for two long visits, during which she recorded her parents and tried to locate herself in relation to them. Given the extraordinary intimacy of her project, she chose to act as a one-woman crew, first setting the lights for each shot, then shooting in black-and-white with a Hi-8 camcorder while taking sound by wedging the microphone under her arm.
To a certain extent, she staged the scenes. You might notice, for example, that when Larisa runs into her room after an emotional outburst and flings herself facedown on the bed, the camera is already in place, waiting for her. To a certain extent, Julia also provoked scenes, or tried to. In one nerve-racking sequence, you see her go to the stereo in the living room and put on a recording titled 75 Spectacular Sound Effects, while her father sits on the couch, bathed in a spot of light. You wait for the recording to get to the inevitable sound of screeching brakes and crumpling metal; but when the time comes, Leonid continues to sit in silence. His only response–if that’s what it is–amounts to an extra blink of the eyes. Within its artful framework, despite the provocations, Moment of Impact keeps running into such stubborn realities, which resist drama, or even interpretation.
The film begins simply, if busily, with the sound of an alarm. Larisa Loktev awakens (the camera is already by her bedside, ready to catch her in close-up) and rolls onto her feet in the harsh morning light. We see her washing up before the bathroom mirror, doing her exercises in the backyard, then poring over the Wall Street Journal while she listens to financial news on the radio and eats breakfast. So far, she might be any single, sternly bustling woman, focused on practical tasks and therefore tolerant of a certain clutter around her.
Then the camera follows Larisa into another room, where she awakens the balding, long-faced man lying in bed. “Do you have to go to work?” she asks in Russian. “Nyet,” the man whispers. “Have to fight for your place in the sun?” “Nyet.” “Not a bad life,” she continues, always in Russian, as she begins to dress Leonid. The camera, placed next to his feet, gives a sloping, funnel-like perspective on Larisa as she tunes the radio to a station with bouncy, lilting Mexican music–something that might give her energy to lace Leonid’s shoes, push his legs up and down, ease him into a wheelchair for his morning wipe-down. As she pulls off Leonid’s T-shirt, she and her husband become cutout figures against a sheer black background. As the washcloth moves across his chest, the screen fills with the image of his flesh, an impenetrable curtain stretching across the frame.