She’s a Man, Baby: The Art of Being Your Neighbor in Day Watch
Body swap scenes are hard to pull off. When done poorly, they’re laughable at best. However, if done properly, a body swap can suspend your disbelief to see the character over the actor while still in the moment. You wind up having no choice but to praise the actor in retrospect because you don’t stop watching for fear of missing something. The latter scenario occurs in Timur Bekmambetov’s Day Watch, which sees Olga (Galina Tyunina) and Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) swap bodies in one of the best performances of two actors pretending to be the other I’ve ever seen.
|Kudos to Galina.|
Anton is placed into Olga’s body as a necessity, to avoid detection and framing for murder; upon waking, Anton sees his body staring back at him, with Olga’s smirk and foot-tapping. The look of realization on Tyunina’s face is priceless. The small mannerisms she displays as Anton demonstrate that she studied Khabensky’s movements and acting style. The mugging action to get to Anton’s cigarettes and flask show a familiarity with where everything is placed. There’s no awkward fumbling; everything is smooth. Tyunina adjusts her walk to mimic that of a man in the moments after the initial switch, and if you’re not careful, you will take the moment for granted and miss it. From the throw of the arm around Semyon to the lighting of the cigarette, the movements are masculine and abrupt. The way that Tyunina turns her head, moves her shoulders and opens doors are all Khbanesky. It’s choreographed precisely, and she did a tremendous job with the initial switch.
For Khabensky’s part in the initial swap scene, he leans against a desk in the same fashion that we saw Tyunina’s Olga do so in the previous film. He puckers his lips into a bemused smirk and sets his jaw the way Olga would. The instruction that Olga gives while in Anton’s body concerning the way that Olga walks, the smudged makeup and the transition of the voices is a complete departure from the performance that Khabensky gives when portraying Anton. He softens the tone of his voice, re-paces his walking and locks his facial features when speaking. In this manner, he delivers the one-half of the funniest exchange of the film:
Olga (upon hearing Anton ask which reason to give for crashing with Sveta): Say that Gesser snores.
Gesser: Do I snore?
The deadpan look, the complete lack of amusement: totally Tyunina as Olga. This is the face of a woman that has slept next to someone that snores. Women around the globe get this look, despite that it’s on a man’s face. This is a look that we’d see on Tyunina’s Olga. That Khabensky nailed it so effortlessly speaks highly of his abilities to observe and convey Tyunina as Olga.
Where we really see the achievement of the swap is in Sveta’s apartment. Tyunina is slightly detached in conversation the way that Anton is, though that could easily be credited to the script. However, the way that Tyunina smokes and nods her head indicate the she observed Khabensky to mimic his movements in the same actions. The crowning moments comes in the shower scene, as Anton prepares to tell Sveta that he’s in Olga’s body. Right before confessing the deception and telling Sveta that he loves her, Tyunina wipes at her nose and shifts the weight of her body onto her left foot. This right here is when you forget that you’re watching an actress do an impression of another actor: in that moment, we are convinced that Anton Gorodetsky is actually in Olga’s body. The willing suspension of disbelief is in full effect at this point. As an added bonus, we get to see Tyunina watching a hockey game as Anton, and are treated to the way she sits, leans and delivers lines as Anton. However, at this point, the audience is thoroughly hooked. We know that it’s really Anton, not Olga.
Anyone can say words, but it takes a tremendous job to have me fully believe that an actor is a character. Both Tyunina and Khabensky worked hard to observe the other in order to become the other. Over gender lines, this is a difficult line to walk because it can quickly turn into unintentional comedy. What Tyunina and Khabensky achieve transcends gender to become the art of seeing a human being. These performances kept a tricky subject light-hearted when it merited the tone and serious when it wanted us to feel something. The level of artistry that went into both of these performances was a true pleasure to watch.